Friday, November 17, 2006


The difference between pornography and erotica is the lighting.

I loved Trainspotting. I know that it’s the sort of book that many may not particularly like due to its graphic portrayal of drug addiction, but, the fact still remains that it is one of the best books I have ever read. In it, Irvine Welsh managed to accurately present the Scottish middle-class in all its glorious dialect, and all of it with a pretty catchy and cheeky plot.

Porno, however, as a sequel was filling but unnecessary. Upon seeing a cheap copy in a bookstore, I settled down to read it in an anxious glee and finished it in a couple of days. To anyone who did like Trainspotting, I would have to recommend the book but I wouldn’t hand it out as a prescription to anyone. This is because Porno, though written in a similar style and setting as its prequel, fails to deliver the novelty delivered by its predecessor. True, it has its moments and the climax is not so much as a peak but a point where you reach only to be shown the plateau of yet another sequel. For, lo, the book does not end as I had hoped. Ever since picking up that orange copy of Trainspotting, the one with the skull on its cover, I have been ushered into the cul-de-sac of Welsh’s mind and can only hope to see the hazy saga to its end.

The book begins, ten years from Trainspotting, with our megalomaniacal pal Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson getting fired from a job due to his obvious charms and deciding to move back to Leith. His decision is final when he learns that he can have his aunt’s old pub to run. The pub attracts the wrong crowd but Sick Boy changes all that as the story progresses and takes control. However, Sick Boy is not bent on changing his old ways and still indulges in wake-me-up-before-you-go-go sex and maintains a thin white line between him and the rest of the world: cocaine. Nevertheless, some things have changed in Leith. Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie, who was in jail, is now out and hungrily looking for Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton who is still in exile and is flourishing as a club promoter in Amsterdam. Then there is Danny ‘Spud’ Murphy hanging around as well; still the same sweet fuck-up… still in rehabilitation, unemployment, heroin, robbing and scheming. He is married with Alison though and sits down to write a book on Leith history.

Some new characters and some from Glue also feature in this novel. There is Rab Birrell, his brother Billy, Lauren – an apparent feminist, Nikki – a university student who has body image problems, Dianne – Renton’s love interest from Trainspotting, Terry ‘Juice’ Lawson – the serial shagger from Glue and loads of new characters all over the place.

One cannot imagine how the abovementioned bourgeois characters could find shelter under the title Porno but one should leave such imaginings to the scheming & scamming mind of Sick Boy who wants to keep every finger in every pie. Sick Boy is still pissed off with Renton and manages to catch up with him and make temporary amendments in Amsterdam. He is busy and thrilled because Juice Terry and him have started fiddling in the porn industry, making stag videos they make with some of the Leith girls they know. The latest addition in this group is Nikki who is madly infatuated with Sick Boy and agrees to star in his latest project: a porn feature-film of epic proportions (in the right places). Sick Boy has the presence of an omnipresent scammer in this novel with him involved in some credit-card fraud and blackmailing as well, which he indulges in to raise some capital for the production of his porno. All is well until…

Perhaps I have a little harsh about the novel at the start, for now I remember some cheeky, some vivid, some sexual, some druggy and some raging passages of the book. Begbie’s contribution to the plot is brilliant and there is a hilarious and spine tingling part where his prey Renton and him are sitting beside each other in the hospital toilet, unaware of each other’s presence. And Renton clearly steals Sick Boy’s thunder once again. Lots of it.

The novel has some important issues dealt with subtly as well. Throughout, the reader is presented with both the sides of the story and shown the polarization of the sexes and how it affects the way we approach pornography. Questions of feminism, female exploitation, the what’s-hot-what’s-not of the porn industry, the decline of Leith culture, the changes in drug culture…etcetera, all find a place in Porno and the novel is not just about porno…like I had hoped.

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