A popular author’s first book, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Am I the only one around here who doesn’t apparently live in a 1950’s fantasy that the world is a wholesome place where nobody swears, has ill thoughts, or engages in misdeeds? After reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I am shocked by how many people are so offended by “bad language” in literature that they felt necessary to put a disclaimer about it in their reviews. The point of literature, and all art, really, isn’t to avoid offense. It’s the exact opposite! Art is supposed to rip you from your comfortable little bubble and shove your face into the gritty reality that you spend so much time avoiding. It doesn’t gloss over the cracks and seediness of humanity; it revels in them. Art is supposed to jar us from our steady stream of routine disillusionment. It wakes us up, it makes alive, it allows us to empathize and become better humans. In my opinion, that is what differentiates “literature” from “books.” If that is what you’re looking for, then you will find that and more in Trainspotting. If you want to cuddle up with a warm novel that will help you avoid reality and warm your little heart, then this isn’t the story for you. Go read Nicholas Sparks or something.
The things that made this novel amazing:
The use of dialect. You will see this in just about every review. Welsh writes in a steady stream of Scottish dialect, which for most of us is a challenge. You almost have to read certain parts aloud, stop and re-read sections, and really pay attention to the context of the sentences to figure out what the hell the characters are saying most of the time. After a while, you will start to pick it up and things will go along more smoothly, but make no bones about it—this will test even the most stalwart of readers. However, for my fellow linguists out there, this also gives the novel its charm and makes it a real treat. There are some laugh-out-loud moments from the language the characters use, not to mention the crazy antics they get into. By giving these characters the use of their own slang and dialect, Welsh provides a level of authenticity that would otherwise be lost. The dialect also serves to reinforce the sense of camaraderie and community that this particular crew—the dregs of humanity—shares, despite the often horrific nature of their lives. It is a unique marker that makes them “one of the group,” for better or for worse.
Shifting narrative perspectives. You can essentially view this novel as a series of short stories, told from different characters’ points of view, and from different narrative points of view (first person, third person, etc.). Each story or chapter hangs together with the others on the narrative through-line of drug use (in this case, heroin). We see the varying stages of addiction—in the throws of the drug, in the sickness of withdrawal, shining recovery, and then ultimately, the relapse. While issues of addiction take center stage in this novel, there is a shadow narrative throughout. The true theme is less about the drugs and more about a class of people that society has given up on–poor people, uneducated people, people at the end of their rope and without the means to better their lives in any real way. The characters at the heart of this story are people who have nothing left to lose, which makes them dangerous but also somewhat free in a way that many of us aren’t. The grittiness of the novel isn’t about the drugs, but about the ways we treat fellow human beings that drive them to such desperation in the first place. This underlying theme is beautifully executed in large part to the choice of narrative structure on Welsh’s part. Through these beautifully rendered tidbits, we see the internal monologue of desperate human beings navigating a world that wants to pretend they don’t exist, and how that blindness to their true plight leads them down desperate avenues.
Morally bankrupt characters that are still weirdly likeable. No doubt about it, these people are the worst of humanity imagined into very solid, well-rounded characters–druggies, prostitutes, and violent sociopaths. You will watch them get into some truly hideous, gasp-inducing debauchery. They do things that will elicit shock from even the most jaded amongst us. You will be utterly revolted by the things these people do, and yet…there’s a weirdly likeable side to them, even at their worst. Particularly when you’re privy to the inner monologue, the ‘why’ behind their actions. It’s a fascinating look into the worst of humanity, and the scariest part of all may be when you find yourself empathizing with some of the things they think, feel, and say. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that “There but for the grace of God go I.”
This is definitely a MUST READ. Just give yourself plenty of time and space to navigate the language.