Monday, January 12, 2009

My Reading of Irvine Welsh...

Okay, so in the past few months, I've read two books by Irvine Welsh: his first book Trainspotting and it's sequel Porno. (Yeah, it was fun making people do double takes when I told them I'd got Porno in the mail.) I read three other books in between the two, but they weren't by Welsh.

Trainspotting isn't exactly a novel. It's a series of narratives of varying length (several pages to about one page), told from varying perspectives. It takes place chiefly in Edinburgh, Scotland, and follows a wide variety of characters who are more or less acquaintances of each other. Many of the stories follow Mark Renton and his close friends. Mark is a heroin addict, in the opening, content to live in the stupor he's in, but as the novel progresses, begins to want to break free from the rut he's in.

While several of Mark's friends are drug users, there are other issues dealt with. Several characters have contracted HIV, and yeah, some people die. There is also focus on the music scene, especially rock and Iggy Pop.

Welsh is not squeamish about dealing with details anywhere. In an early scene, an illegitimate baby dies of neglect, and her mother is offered consolation in heroin. This vivid realism makes the novel disturbing, sickening, and engaging.

An odd thing about the book is how much you get into the characters, even though they do nothing you'd probably approve of. Especially as most of the book is written in phonetic spellings of the Edinburgh accent.


Trainspotting ends with Mark and his three main friends, the junkie Spud, the perverted Sick Boy, and the psychotic Begbie (who, after seeing the film adaptation, you will always imagine as Robert Carlyle) doing a drug deal. Mark takes the money on the sly and leaves the country, breaking away from his old life forever.

So, later, we get into Porno. It takes place about ten years later.

Porno is rather different from Trainspotting, in that the book revolves around a smaller group of people who are more directly related to each other's plots, and there isn't so much of the Edinburgh accent being spelled out, with the exception of chapters narrated by Spud and Begbie, and when it's being done to show how a character speaks.

In fact, the book only has five "narrators," the story being told from their perspectives: Sick Boy, new character Nikki, Spud, Begbie, and Mark Renton.

Sick Boy believes he has re-invented himself, become a better person. He even resents the old nick name of "Sick Boy" and wants everyone to call him "Simon," his real name. He inherits a pub, where he tries to make himself seem an impressive citizen and businessman.

Nikki is a girl who has become bored with her standard "good girl" image, and is becoming perverted, working at a sauna where the girls who work there are allowed and encouraged to give sexual favors to customers. She eventually becomes the star of a porn film that some new acquaintances of her, including Sick Boy, are producing, but she eventually sees how degrading and sickening it is. She has two roommates, the feminist Lauren, and Dianne, who Mark met (and shagged) in Trainspotting.

Spud is still a drug addict, but is trying to get over it. He has a wife and son, but despite loving them, he still has troubles. Throughout the course of the book, he writes a book about Leith that gets turned down by a publisher, a close friend dies, and the only friend he can depend unfailingly on is his cat, Zappa.

Begbie is getting out jail for manslaughter (actually, a murder made to look like manslaughter), and looking for the person who's been sending him gay porn in jail (Sick Boy). He keeps committing crimes, and even manages a murder or two. Eventually, his single goal becomes getting back at Mark Renton...

...who has been living in Amsterdam, co-owns a night club, and has been training in martial arts. It is revealed he did send Spud his share of the money he stole at the end of the first book, and he gives Sick Boy his share in the book. Sick Boy gets Mark to co-produce his porn film, but Mark gets wise to the fact that Sick Boy hasn't really changed and is just waiting to use Mark for his own purposes, then leave him at the mercy of Begbie.

In Porno, you really find yourself hoping that the characters could just settle down and live more honest lives. You want Spud to kick the drugs for good and all and be a good father to his son. You wish Sick Boy would just content himself with running his pub. You wish Nikki could find a good boyfriend to live happily ever after with. You wish Begbie would calm down and think. And of course, you want Mark and Dianne to live happily ever after. Well, one of those things happens, of sorts. But of course, things don't turn out all happy, and when they don't, you still enjoy the story.

But really, the two big themes here are revenge and reconciliation. At the close of the novel, we're left wondering if Begbie and Mark are reconciled. Mark gets major revenge on Sick Boy for trying to set him up.

Really, I was surprised how much I enjoyed these two books, with their heavy uses of profanity, and vivid descriptions of sex and drug use. These two are a wild ride not everyone is suited for.

1 comment:

alancook said...

Nice reviews.
I'm suprised you could understand them and so, I would definately reccomend Welshs' book 'Filth' about a corrupt Edinburgh cop.