Having not seen the film or read the book (I swear I’m not a Martian!), I decided it was finally time to tackle Irvine Welch’s Trainspotting.
The novel tells the story of Renton, a twenty-something year old Heroin addict from Edinburgh, and the many misdeeds he commits, often accompanied by his equally unruly friends.
First thing’s first, let’s discuss my first issue with this one: it’s just so crude! From what I knew of the film, I sort of expected this, but I still wasn’t prepared for THAT opening scene. I’m definitely not prude, but excessively foul language, some very misogynistic sex scenes, and a penchant for very blunt description combined to make this a truly toe-curling read. The one positive of said bluntness is that descriptions of drug overdoses and withdrawal symptoms deter the reader from touching hard drugs for approximately all of eternity, but still:
With regards to the characters, it’s fair to say this isn’t really the sort of book where one actually likes them, although Renton himself was probably the least detestable, if one can set aside his aforementioned misogynistic descriptions of women. Welch manages to give readers the sense that, before the addiction took hold, he had at least some morals (although there’s something odd about someone who is perfectly happy to put Class A drugs in their system refusing to eat meat…), and there is some indication that he would like to beat his addiction. If nothing else, I could certainly understand his actions at the end of the novel.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his friends (with the possible exception of Spud, who is portrayed as too astoundingly incompetent to make an honest living). My least favourite was definitely ‘Sick Boy’, partly because he evokes memories of the type of person we all know so well, with many unpleasant secrets lingering beneath a squeaky clean exterior. Yet, Welch is able to ensure that, no matter how many ladies he romances or mothers he charms, the reader is fully aware of his dark side, mostly due to the sarcastic comments Renton makes whenever his friend turns on the charm, mostly successfully. The second reason I detested Sick Boy was his treatment of the women he managed to attract- he personifies every stereotype about men who see women as little more than disposable objects, available to be used sexually whenever a man pleases. By the end of the novel, I’d feel queasy every time he so much as glanced at a woman, dreading what would inevitably come next. An honourable mention for the ‘Most Chauvinistic Pig’ award must also go to Renton’s other friend Belby, who delights in mistreating his long-suffering, pregnant girlfriend. It’s safe to say I enjoyed seeing Renton outsmart his friends by the novel’s end.
Plot-wise, there really isn’t a lot one can say about Trainspotting. It really is little more than a chronicle of Renton’s repeated cycle of attempting to get clean, before being tempted and regressing back to his dangerous habits. Events like the death of a friend, with the same addiction as Renton, simply add inconvenience into said cycle. Rather than a story in the conventional sense, this is a description or narrative on the life of a serial drug addict, set against the backdrop of a city brimming with opportunities for misadventure. The actual plot only seems to kick in towards the end of the book, with the real action occurring in the last fifty pages or so.
I’m afraid the overall verdict on this one would have to be perfectly average (although Welch should be praised for writing in a ‘Scottish’ accent, giving Renton’s backstory an air of authenticity). It’s not an awful book by any stretch of the imagination, it simply isn’t the modern classic some would claim. I have to say my disinterest in the film adaptation has grown, if anything, after reading the novel- if the book is crude, I can only envision the movie being even worse.