Book Review: Trainspotting

pete-doherty-1I’m not normally a fan of chick-lit, but I had the privilege of reading this masterpiece in the original Hebrew and that made all the difference. Few stories commute this well from the big screen to the paperback novel, and although I am only halfway through the book itself, it is already quite evident that this is a rare accomplishment for any human, let alone a Scottish one.
The author, Danny Boyle, best known for his recent attempt to auction off the children kidnapped to perform in his latest book, Slumdog Millionaire, has been looking for a project to revive his career after that god-awful homage to cinematic inertia, in which a group of stupid yanks try to kick-start the sun. Despite predating both of those films, Trainspotting may well be the one to achieve this. Of course, there is little point in reading this book if you have already seen the film or read the quirky orange ‘choose heroin’ poster that tossers wall-papered their bedroom with while it was still the nineties; but for those that haven’t, it’s an excellent introduction into the ethereal and sometimes inaccessible genre of all-male ass-to-mouth.

We all have our preconceptions about ‘how the other half live,’ our own crude sketch of what life must be like in the affluent circles of Edinburgh’s over-class, but here at long last is a book-slash-film that for the first time cracks open this glamorous world. Trainspotting tells the story of a whole bunch of men with forty different names each, as they wander through the novel taking drugs and confusing the reader. Renton, played by an impeccable Mel Gibson in the original movie from which this was adapted, is a man fighting hard to free his people from the colonial tyranny of thirteenth century Edwardian England. He is joined along the way by Francis Begby, a shy, misunderstood loner with a sharp knife and a big heart and Spud, a humanised Mr Potato Head, in a race against time to die slowly from AIDS. It’s not hard to see why we built a wall to keep these people out.

The story is a moving one, presumably with a fair few plot twists and engaging reveals, and no doubt a reasonably clever ending. There is a beautiful scene just a few pages after the part where I stopped reading, where the character makes a whole butt-load of life-changing decisions and in a masterstroke of trans-reality interaction, actually hands the reader a fully loaded syringe to help him cope with the tedious futility that this book has ushered into his life. I say ‘his’ because the book cover is bright orange, and women only read pretty things.
There are ups and downs, highs and lows, and an impressive amount of filler material before the reader-slash-viewer is puked out the other side of this farce with just the right amount of compassion for the dirty smack-head thieves around whom the fairytale rotates. Gritty, urban, edgy; I know tons of adjectives. I also know one or two adverbs and a whole shit-load of nouns. Nonetheless, I feel we should continue with the review.

So what is this film trying to say? As with any attempt to communicate with people in these sorts of far-away tartan colonies, it can at times be hard to tell. Are we meant to feel that a spiritual rebirth can occur in the darkest corners of hopelessness? Is it more a wry satire on the changing nature of relationships in the post-Thatcher nuclear family? Possibly, but I think the narrator puts it best himself when he says, ‘aye, hi wisnae aboot tae be a bing-bong bandy, the wee gadgey-wadge, ken?’
Indeed. And yes, there are drugs in this poster. And yes they are glamourous too, but that’s what it’s like in the real world. You can try to pretend that heroin won’t lead you into a life of cool squats and dangerous happy sex thrills, but the reality is, that’s exactly where it will take you. This is probably the finest attempt at addressing that fact so far. Beyond that, it serves as something of a guide to life, crammed full of practical advice on day-to-day issues, such as how to shit the bed and get heroin dust out of a kilt.

I found it altogether Scottish in its approach to storytelling, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. Yes, it does ramble on about battered haggis and the virtues of the bagpipe solo, but the clever use of repetitive slang helped to personalise each character and really set them apart from the dozen or so exactly like them.
A number of other techniques are cleverly employed to divert our attention whilst the author spoon-feeds us the emotions we are required to feel. Bullet time, soixant-neuf and an illegible slang vernacular leave the reader dazed enough to accept the suggestion that he enjoyed a journey he can remember only in the dim flashbacks that dance through his mind as he runs his fingers across the contours of his body, shuddering at the discovery of new bruises that were not there the night before.

Make no mistake- this book transformed the world. Regimes changed, continents shifted, despots were toppled; three separate ayatollahs issued a fatwa for the beheading of Irvine Welsh, a co-director and head of dolly-gripping in the film, who held a number of other posts in the post-production of the poster. To be sure, this was the book that showed me how to love my soul; the book that finally convinced my late father to take up heroin and for that I applaud it.
But I’m not all praise for Trainspotting. It had its down-sides too. For the most part I despised this novel, in particular all of it, which I found to be tedious and dull. Reading it, for example, was like taking one of those long, broad shits that feels tantamount to sodemy. I felt used afterwards. Violated. I spent the rest of the afternoon cuddling a sponge in the basin of my shower. Try it; see what I mean. And with 300 pages, there’s plenty to wipe up with afterwards. I couldn’t help thinking how many trees died so that this luminescent abomination could haunt my shelf. How many poor, knackered horses were led into the glue room, and mangled into gloop with which to bind this monstrous tome. I just don’t think it was worth the pain.
So; Trainspotting in summary? Take the best orgasm you’ve ever had, then get your grandmother to help you clean it up.

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