Updated on July 3, 2015
23. ‘Trainspotting’ by Irvine Welsh
The front cover of my copy of Trainspotting says it all, really: “The best book ever written by man or woman … deserves to sell more copies than the Bible.” With that kind of glowing endorsement emblazoned across the front, it’s hard to believe it’s taken me this long to read it. But then I saw Irvine Welsh at the Hay Festival and I read it instantly. Now that I’ve finished it, I must say it is very very VERY good.
Even if you’ve never read this book, you’ve almost certainly heard that it’s written in Scottish dialect. Do not let this put you off. OK, it will take a little getting used to, but once you do it won’t seem jarring or confusing. Instead the dialect enhances the writing and draws subtle distinctions between the different characters. I have previously been told that Trainspotting was too difficult for me. Forget that, if you want to dive into this book, for God’s sake go for it.
It’s probably helpful to go into this book knowing that it’s written more like a series of short stories than a novel, with the narrative perspective changing with the chapters. The story follows a group of drug-taking friends living in Leith, Edinburgh, and each of these characters has a very different narrative style. You can recognise different people by their verbal tics and their outlooks on the world: sometimes optimistic, sometimes dismally resigned. There’s Rents, an on-again-off-again heroin addict who is to some extent the sanest of the group; Sick Boy, his charming addict friend; Spud, an essentially kind shoplifter; Second Prize, an alcoholic; Davie Mitchell, the everyman of the group; and Begbie, a violent psychopath.
Each of the chapters tells a different story, with some plot threads weaving throughout the whole book. These are not easy stories: the seedy underbelly of addict life is fully exposed here, with all the grim occurrences that you might expect from that lifestyle. For this reason Trainspotting is not an easy read, but this darkness is also what makes it great. You’ll read about violence, rape, withdrawal, animal cruelty, cot death and brutal, brutal revenge, but you won’t be able to look away. It’s (unsurprisingly) addictive reading, fantastically executed writing that can create sympathy out of thin air, and some truly heart-stopping vignettes.
Ultimately this is a book that will make you work a little harder, and really reward you for it.
“Sometimes ah think that people become junkies just because they subconsciously crave a wee bit ay silence.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.