Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

After seeing the film ‘Trainspotting’ a couple of years ago and absolutely loving it, I was thrilled to discover there was a book. After finding it in Waterstones and discovering it was written entirely in Scottish slang I had to buy it. It didn’t matter that I was skint and I’d been saving my waterstones points for a rainy day, I went ahead and bought it with my points and it’s been calling to me ever since I bought it. I consumed it in a matter of days and my enthusiasm for the book spilled out the point where I was quoting extracts of it to my boyfriend and family and kept constantly entertained.

The wonderful thing about Trainspotting is it’s not a particularly conventional novel in any sense. Although the stories contained within each chapter do have some semblance of a timeline, its almost just a compilation of many stories from the lives of many different people who know each other. Unlike the film, which mainly focuses on Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud, this novel includes the viewpoints of characters who are mere acquaintances of the group and facing hardship or the viewpoint of the girls in their lives which was very refreshing. What i loved the most about this book is its focus on mundane but quirky everyday life – obviously Begbie beating people up is hardly mundane or everyday but some stories are just so normal, so human, you have to admire Welsh for being so down to earth and observant. An example of what I mean is one chapter which is from the viewpoint of a female character. Loads of members of her family are round due to the fact some aunt’s husband has died and everybody is consoling her. Unnoticed and treat like a lackey, she realises her period has come on and not having tampons, she sticks some toilet roll in her pants instead. What I love about this is the fact it’s something writers would never normally talk about – you never heard about Harry Potter going for a shit do you? And that’s what makes this book so refreshing; it’s different and original.  

Due to the nature of the book it’s hard to describe the plot in a concise manner. The book follows several characters – mainly focusing on Renton and his mates: Spud, Begbie and Sick Boy but also the people associated with them. It’s a collection of many stories of their lives over a period of time – stories about heroin addiction, battling with HIV, shitting the bed, going for a drink in the pub which ends in a scrap, picking up girls, stealing, using Vicks as lubricant (don’t ask, read the book) smoking hash, putting opium suppositories up your arse and having to retrieve them after a post-heroin diarrhoea bout etc. there’s so much going on in this novel it’s almost impossible to describe an actual plot.

Renton is severely addicted to heroin and the novel breaks down into sections where he is either on the drug or trying to give it up. Although he had a lot of potential in his youth, even managing to go to University, he’s stuck in a rut in Leith in Edinburgh, kicking about with people he hates like Frank Begbie. Begbie thinks he’s a real hard man and takes any excuse to hurt somebody; his friends maintain the semblance of friendship out of outright fear. Examples of his terrifying violence range from chucking a heavy pint glass off a balcony on a pub onto the people below to kicking his pregnant girlfriend in the crotch and suggesting that if any harm comes to the bairn, it’s her fault for ‘being lippy’. This guy is a right ‘Doss c**t’ as Begbie himself would say…

Sick Boy is the ladies man of the group, seemingly he’s shagged every woman in the area and he delights in torturing his friends by showing this off. On the few occasions we see through the eyes of Sick Boy he has an amusing inward conversation with himself and the voice of Sean Connery, having kicked heroin with ease (which he uses to torture Renton) he thinks he’s doing alright for himself. And then there’s Spud – just after a shag, bit dosh and everything to be alright, ken?

The most morbid of topics are made to be funny – this is the blackest of the black humour made real by the impeccable use of slang and colloquialisms. Trainspotting dismisses any cosy notions that we live in a classless society with mind-numbing tales of hardship that still, somehow, make you laugh.  The beauty of Trainspotting is it’s rawness but at the same time the ability to make light of deep, dark issues. You don’t expect to empathise with a heroin addict. Surprisingly, you do. My only criticism is that at times its hard to pick up on who the character is when a chapter begins until you recognise the way they talk or they’re addressed by name; this was quite frustrating but regardless, this is one of the best books I have ever read.


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