Back in 96 I went and saw Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting. I loved the film and yet it still was another couple years before I found Irvine Welsh’s written work. When this finally happened in the late 90’s it was a good friend who lent me his copy of The Acid House.
I’ve been hooked since.
After Acid House I read a few of Mr. Welsh’s other books before reading Trainspotting. One of those books was Glue. In Glue I recognized both the setting of Edinburgh’s port Leith and several appearances by the lads from the train. Soon after came Porno – the full blown ‘sequel’ to Trainspotting, as it was touted in it’s marketing, but also the sequel to Glue. What Welsh does with these three books is amazing, flushing out a rich continuity that houses some of modern fiction’s most poignant and three-dimensional characters. There are no good guys, no bad guys (well, you might argue that last point…) but rather a world where people make real life choices to gain and survive and pay accordingly, often both with their flesh and their sanity. Recently I set about reading these three novels for the first time back-to-back-to-back. After doing so I must implore anyone who is a lover of Welsh to embark on the same journey. The books are wonderful by themselves, but put together into a whole they take on dimensions that I feel are almost unheard of in literature.
I don’t want to be the guy that spits in popular opinion (okay, yeah I do) and this is by no means a critique, but Trainspotting is easily the weakest of the three. Not that it’s poorly written or ‘bad’ per se. No. It’s just that compared to it’s continuations it is a sparser work. This isn’t due to anything it lacks, but rather the intricacies and subtleties that the subsequent two books have gained and thrive on. For my money, Glue is still Welsh’s masterpiece. the story of four friends growing up from early childhood to ‘adulthood’, amidst a backdrop of social change and neighborhood gentrification is a moving one – full of moments that make me want to go out and do drugs, fight, drink, fuck and cry. Oh yes, I remembered one particular part of the book that turned the waterworks on the first time I read it and it was the same this time. Tears well up in the eyes and that’s when I know I’ve found an author I will be rabid for all my life.
Porno then, coming off the heels of reading Glue feels a bit abrasive at first* – Sickboy is the first person we start out with and first-person Sickboy, now ten years after the events of trainspotting, is not a nice view through which to see the world. He is cold, calculating and more than a little mysoginistic – details of his windy road to the moral and emotional gutter are by no means pleasant to read, but they are essential to the crux of the story at the heart of Porno. Not simply a story about a group of people making a pornographic film, but a story like all of Welsh’s others about how people move and deal among one another as they age and the world begins to reveal itself as the inconsistant, dream-crushing serpent that it can be.
I’m not saying Welsh is a pessimist – on the contrary. Porno finds several of the characters from it’s previous works living peaceful lives and having achieved their goals. But that’s the genius of these three books – tie them all together and it’s like you are following the lives of an entire group of friends, some of whom just might remind you a bit of some of the people from your own life. With this holographic effect the books can act as a mirror through which, for me at least, I can actually gain insight into my own world and relationships, motivations and hang-ups. Art imitates life? Perfect application of the cliche.
Or, cliche aside, think of it as growing up ‘virtually’. Following the life threads of these people you’ve come to care about over the course of three books, seeing them at their best and at their worst, but still seeing them for the real, 3D people that Welsh, mad literary genius, has constructed on mass produced paper for all the world to read.
Almost immediately after finishing Porno my jones for the Leith gang became almost incapacitating. It was hard to start another of the thousand books I have piled all over the fucking house, awaiting the right time for me to slip into their own worlds. Then I saw the annoouncement for Welsh’s REHEATED CABBAGE and I was so happy I had to lift the glass. Here’s a link to the description of cabbage, due out in September:
From the man himself:
Begbie’s Christmas dinner? I can’t wait.
* Not that Glue is not. The scene early on that can be summed up with the equation bolt cutter + guard dogs legs = almost more abrasive than I can stand.