A review of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.
Here is where I confess that as a six-year-old, my childhood dream was to grow up and become a heroin-fuelled, coke-snorting sex fiend. It all began with Jenny in Forrest Gump (she was so pretty, I used to recreate the scene where she stands on a balcony in her silver shoes and sparkly top on the edge of my dining table, staring wistfully out my window upon the metropolis of Palmerston North). I had the poster for Trainspotting on my wall at the ripe age of 13 along with posters for Pulp Fiction (I wanted to be Uma Thurman) and The Libertines (Pete Doherty was my future husband). I was thoroughly fascinated with and idolised this adult world that no one talked about and of which everyone was afraid, yet which seemed to permeate so many films and be the basis of so much literature.
When I got a little older and discovered how sweaty and bloated the mythic sheen of drug addiction really was (and found out Jenny died and Uma overdosed) my ambitions changed somewhat, but my fascination with the seedy underworld heaving beneath every city remained. Add to this a cult novel, set it in Scotland, and, by God Irvine Welsh, you’ve got me weak at the knees.
Welsh’s Trainspotting (1993) is a fascinating read, to put it simply. It focuses on a group of heroin-addicted “Skag Boys” living in Edinburgh, and tracks their movements as they weave throughout their city. There are a number of narrators and each tells their story in a fashion comparable to stream-of-consciousness narration. Sick Boy entertains himself by maintaining an inner dialogue with Sean Connery, and Renton, the central protagonist, narrates in Scots dialogue, with all words spelled phonetically. The plot is non-linear, and, in many ways, Trainspotting is a series of short stories revolving around the Skag Boys and their addictions. The characters are all incredibly endearing and through their self-loathing and wry humour Welsh explores with depth what he perceives to be an absence of a true Scottish national identity. At the novel’s center is both heroin and alcohol addiction, exploring what causes drug abuse and what sustains its many forms. Without holding back anything, Trainspotting, hurls you head first into a culture marginalised and hushed up, “the scum of the earth” as Renton so eloquently puts it.
Trainspotting was adapted into a film in 1996 by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) that is equally as cool as the book. I saw the film before reading Welsh’s novel, and absolutely loved it, it’s still one of my favourites. Both the film and book have attained a cult status and the value of each is reinforced by reading/watching the other. I took it upon myself to give the book a home (I do this to a lot of books, I’m a very giving person) and I am so glad that I did, it is currently the coolest thing sitting on my bedside shelf. I’m mildly obsessed with the black-leafed pages and awesome cover art by vintage loves film, it’s like my two favourite worlds had an even cooler baby. Finglish? Enilm? No? OK.
Here’s the trailer. Choose Trainspotting.
Love Claire x