Reviewer: Tall, Short, Tiny & a Pickle
It has been a number of years since I read Trainspotting, but both the novel and the movie have stuck with me with unsurprising clarity. If you have read the book, you will know exactly what I am talking about: it is memorable in both content and style, and while I don’t know that it’s book you necessarily enjoy, it is one you will urge others to read, if only to have someone to discuss it with.
Trainspotting is written as a series of short stories, collated to become an oft-incoherent but certainly cohesive novel. The stories revolve around a group of young adults living in Edinburgh, who all are heroin users, friends of heroin users, or engage in other self-destructive, addictive behaviours.
There’s Mark Renton, the depressed, intelligent main character who sometimes appears “normal” and at other times is stealing to support his drug habit. His tales are darkly-funny, full of crazy anecdotes and abhorrence of many of his friends. One of Mark’s oldest friend is Sick Boy, who indulges in frequent sex with random women for whom he feels nothing but contempt. He thinks very highly of himself, even when binging on heroin, and appears to have no morals whatsoever. Another childhood friend of Mark’s is Tommy, who doesn’t use heroin but dabbles in speed. When his girlfriend leaves him, however, he begins to experiment with heroin, and his experiments do not end well.
Spud is perhaps the most likeable of all the characters in this novel, despite being sent to prison for theft; he is a sweet character with a kind heart, who unfortunately will never have the skills or opportunity to make anything of himself. In stark contrast to Spud is Franco Begbie, a violent character who constantly bullies his “friends”, despite being quite loyal. He is an alcoholic, and addicted to speed. Davie Mitchell is the complete opposite to all the other characters in the book; he has a university degree and a job, and is seemingly “normal”. However, being part of such a group of friends can not leave someone unscathed, and unfortunately, Davie is no exception.
Each chapter is told from differing perspectives (with Mark’s being the constant voice throughout), and this makes it challenging to read: Welsh has written in the varying “dialects” of Edinburgh, which takes quite some time to get used to. A lack of quotation marks to identify speech also adds to the challenging nature of the story, but I think these quirks merely serve to accentuate the difficulties and horrors faced by the characters.
The subject matter isn’t pleasant, and there are scenes that are uncomfortable and difficult to read, but overall, I think Trainspotting is worthy of its place on this list. It may not be a story you enjoy, but it’s likely to make you think, and it will undoubtedly register on some level.