Saturday, September 09, 2006


Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you've got heroin?

You must have heard about this book or the subsequent movie and if you haven’t then there is every reason why you should. Trainspotting, the debut novel of Irvine Welsh (Ecstasy, Glue, Porno) is a work of literature that has presented drug addiction to the masses in a very different and refreshing light so much so that the book was short-listed for the Booker prize. One may ask what literary value could a book that advertises heroin use have, the answer is simply – a lot.

Trainspotting is set in Edinburgh and Leith during the 1980s and is the story of a group of friends: Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton, Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson, Danny ‘Spud Boy’ Murphy, Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie and Tommy, and their inter-woven lives affected by heroin. The book is essentially a collection of short-stories and divided into each character’s own monologues but is somewhat linear and comes together for a purposive ending. Roughly the plot runs something like this:

Renton and his nihilistic, slacker skag-pals are brought together more by the drug than a mutual friendship. They despise each other but are very aware that there are hardly any other possibilities or dreams left for them being poor, drugged, unemployed and the danger of HIV always lurking behind. The only other alternatives in the straight world are ‘mind-numbing and spirit-crushing’ and not readily acceptable by any of them. Renton, the main protagonist and antihero of the novel is the only relatively sane person in the group and dictates his life with the bland and cynical eye of a Holden Caulfield high off his tits. It is his unflinching eye for detail and the denial of everything he observes that makes him a sort of smack-vigilante that goes out and robs, deals drugs and commits other petty crimes. His streak of sanity, fuzzy after a lethal overdose, sees him take-off to London in order to get away from his druggy pals and the chaos they carry with them. However, his past catches up with him but in his favour. All that remains to see is how he can get away from it once and for all…

Trainspotting is hailed by many people for its hilarity and simultaneous clarity. Never before has the touchy subject of heroin been discussed with such humanity and probes as to why people do it in the first place. Some people criticize the book for its promotion of drug-use but they miss the important point that this glorification of heroin is only there in the early stages of the novel and as the plot progresses and their live recoil, the tough get going and the inevitable horrors of addiction settle in, which only goes to show us both sides of the blade.

A harem of one-liners and transgressive scenarios, this is one book that won’t let you down with its visionary musical comedy playing tunes of addiction throughout. Often hard to understand due to the phonetic use of urban Scotland the book is fashioned like the writings of Hunter s. Thompson and William S. Burroughs, it will make you see the everyman in the heroin-junkie you come across on the street.

Watch Trainspotting (1996) trailer; Ewan McGregor & Robert Carlyle

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