Vintage (1997), 352 pages
Charity Shop, €2
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.