Just to be perverse I decided to read this in the most unlikely place possible. Given the subject matter I selected my holiday to sunny and relaxed Noosa, playground of hippies, triathletes and aging Victorians looking for a place in the sun but still wanting a healthy lifestyle to read this gritty, urban, in fact, downright disturbing book. It was certainly an antidote to place.
While the novel is not without its dark humour it left me disturbed but fully believing in the young men who were the novel’s antiheroes. Mark Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie were the damaged and disturbed young addicts who cut a swathe through Edinburgh night life in the 80s, a time of depressing, grey housing estates full of desperation and ugliness with the ever present threat of AIDs and the grinding poverty of its inhabitants. They are sociopathically aware of society’s ills and determined to burn up quickly. Their contempt for themselves and everyone else masks something a lot more complex. Their need. Unable to fully feel things they mask the pain and disappointment of their lives with whatever substance they can get their hands on. Everything, including other people, is there to be used.
Welsh’s critique of Edinburgh’s underclass is a critique of Britain at the time and is hopeless and sad as well as frightening. The boys are dangerous to others as much as to themselves and I found myself anxious at times for those who came into contact with them. The world of the novel is painfully drawn from the point of view of the main characters and a few of those in the inner circle and the reader is drawn in to their needs, lack of real motivations and aimless paths. The voices are written in strong vernacular and the rhythms of the speech are amazing at conveying the amoral thoughts of the protagonists. For all the horror it is an amazing novel to read and haunts you for quite some time afterwards. The insight into the pain and love of addiction is so strong that you almost feel it yourself.
Just don’t read it on a sunny Queensland holiday!