Vintage (1997), 352 pages
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Trainspotting is unlike anything I have ever read. It is written in the strong Glasgow accent that captures the emotions of Welsh’s characters perfectly. It takes a few pages to get to grips with the accent but it’s worth the effort as by the end of the book you feel like you have learned a new language, a language that immerses you in the lives of the Glasgow underclass that Welsh portrays. Incredibly Trainspotting is a debut novel. Rarely has a debut novel of such black-humoured brilliance been published.
Welsh pulls no punches, Trainspotting is a brutally physical novel. Bodily fluids of every kind seep from its pages. There is love and violence, hope and despair, and various attempts to survive the precarious environment of life on the margins. As in every social grouping there are people you can empathise with (such as Trainspotting’s narrator Mark Renton) and those who you’d be better off avoiding (such as the psychopathic Begbie). However unlike in regular society Welsh’s character’s options are narrow. The power of their addictions means they have to deal with people like Begbie if they want to keep feeding their addictions.
Trainspotting, like Welsh’s characters, lives in the moment. There is little direct analysis of who is to blame, if anyone, for the situation Welsh’s characters find themselves in. Welsh, wisely, doesn’t offer any easy solutions. There is no moralising. Instead Trainspotting explores the power of immediate desires with little thought for the consequences.
Tramp Press (216 pages), 2015
Book Launch, €12
I attended the launch of Spill Simmer Falter Wither in Dublin’s Voodoo Lounge a while ago. Anne Enright launched the novel with her usual mix of wit, wisdom, and warmth.
Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a wonderful novel. Although it is a debut novel it has a maturity that is rare in a first novel. Unlike the recently reviewed The Guest Cat Baume creates a much stronger bond between the dog, One Eye, and the man who finds him (or who is found by the dog). I care what happens to both characters and can empathise with their plight. The novel has a great opening scene as the dog tears furiously across the Irish countryside, one eye hanging loose, his pain and pace taking place on the timeless but ever changing stage of the Irish landscape.
The man lives alone his life has been confined by circumstance and fear. His father was harsh and cold. He has spent most of his life behind closed doors. One Eye brings the man outside of himself, at last he has someone he can care about. There is alo a realisation that there is another way to live, “How can you be so unremittingly interested? How can every stone be worthy of tenderly sniffing, every clump of grass a source of fascination? How can this blade possibly smell new and different from that blade, and why is it that some require to be pissed upon, and others simply don’t? I wish I had been born with your capacity for wonder. I wouldn’t mind living a shorter life if my short life could be as vivid as yours” (p.35).
It is One Eye’s uncontrollable emotions and the man’s inability to deal with them that results in man and dog going on the run from the dog catcher. The is forced out into public in his car driving the back roads of Ireland. He is running to save the one thing that he has grown to love. Baume never romanticises the man’s problems. The countryside is beautiful but unemotional, like the landscapes in a Cormac McCarthy novel. The man and dog’s road trip is one shaped by desperation. Living in a car is not easy. They are two outsiders who struggle to understand the cruelty of the world. Ireland has a history of treating its outsiders badly and Spill Simmer Falter Wither touches on this, “Now we’re approaching the village again. See the bare branches of the cherry trees. The houses with the people inside and the shops with goods inside and the church with all its chalky gods inside, and everything and everybody remaining inside because it’s Christmas, of course, and there’s nowhere to go. See the bird walk, the information board, the noble fir in all its hollow frippery. See the takeaway, the chip shop. The pub, the other pub. The grocers and the hairdressing salon, all shut. See the community we were insidiously hounded from. See how community is only a good thing when you’re a part of it” (p.209).
Irish Times review.
Irish Examiner review.
The Independent (UK) review.
Atlantic Books (2008), 292 pages
Charity Shop, €2
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2008
The White Tiger is a fast paced look at one Indian’s rise from a humble background to become a wealthy businessman in an increasingly globalised society. Adiga’s narrator, Balram Halwai, tells his story by writing letters to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The corruption of the Indian political, economic, and caste systems are key to Halwai’s success. He abuses people and commits crimes with impunity through his ability to distribute bribes when required. Halwai is blithely amoral in his dealings with other people. The White Tiger shows the pitfalls of unregulated globalised capitalism.
Guardian interview with the author
Anchor Books (1996), 246 pages
Charity Shop, €2
How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe is an amusing and erudite look at how Ireland provided a light for Europe during the so-called Dark Ages. Cahill interweaves the Classical and Celtic traditions. The lives of St. Augustine and St. Patrick are fleshed out as they are portrayed as exemplars of the age. St. Patrick is seen as a driving force in Ireland’s modernisation. The simple monotheistic values of Christianity transform Irish society, “With the Irish – even the kings – he succeeded beyond measure. Within his lifetime or soon after his death, the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and intertribal warfare, decreased” (p.110).
It was Irish monks who Cahill highlights as the real heroes of his thesis that the Irish saved civilization. The ascetic and scholarly values of Irish Christianity were transmitted, first to Britain, and then to Europe by Irish monks. Their exceptional skills as scribes enabled the creation and dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe and is a legacy whose effects can still be felt today.
I finally achieved a goal I had for a while. I was never sure if I could actually get below 17 minutes so I’m happy that I managed to break what was, for me anyway, a fast time. I’d decided this summer that I’d try and do a few more Parkruns to see if I could break 17 minutes. I’ve never ran more than two Parkruns in a row and my last one was in January. I had been running regularly (I ran the Limerick Marathon this year) and added in a bit more specific 5K training. My first attempt was in the Poppintree course which is a fast course. Unfortunately it was unbelievably windy (despite being June). I managed 17:09 which was a PB. I knew I was well on course for my time as if there hadn’t been a near gale blowing I would have been below 17 minutes. The following week I ran in St. Anne’s Parkrun. This is also a flat course and the highlight of the two lap course is the perfectly smooth and long final straight (it’s almost 720m according to Google Maps). The wind was back to normal Dublin levels (a slight breeze) and it was warm. Again another runner went off at a fast pace and again I could use him as an incentive to keep pushing myself around the course. I didn’t look at my watch much just kept myself as close to the limit as I thought I could. It was clear that the lead runner, although the gap had closed fractionally, definitely wouldn’t be caught. With about 300m to go I realised I was going to make it under 17 minutes. I really dug in and pushed as hard as I could to finish in 16:49. Obviously I was delighted with the time as I was well under my target.
St. Anne’s Parkrun
Recently week after I went to the Waterstown Parkrun. I did something very unusual for me. I went into the lead almost straight from the start. After about 50m I felt that the general pace was too slow to have a chance at getting under 17 minutes so I decided to take a chance and go into the lead. What I didn’t realise was that the course was quite hilly with a lot of turns. Thankfully there was a lead bicycle (who kept about 20 metres in front of me so he wasn’t pacing me) to guide me. It was a strange feeling running at the front. I felt like I was being chased down by a pack of wolves. The fear of being caught spurred me on and made me dig deep on some of the hills. I finished strongly in a time of 16:39 which was actually a course record (to be fair Waterstown isn’t one of the more popular Parkruns so I’m not getting too big headed about that).
My last Parkrun, a couple of weeks ago, was again in St. Anne’s Park. This time I thought I try and head off in the lead again and see what happened. The conditions were good, warm with not too much wind. I was delighted when I made it home in 16:14. I’m really happy with my 5K progress and now will try to get under 16 minutes if possible. The key for me has been doing specific 5K training. I try and run 2.5K flat-out then stop for about a minute and then run 2.5K flat-out again. My pace in both parts is slightly higher than for a full 5K and this seems to prepare me for the increased stress (especially in the lungs) of running at a faster pace.