Just finished* Irvine Welsh's latest novel Skagboys. Look, if you're hard up for time (and manners), it's crap, alright, and you can just skip the rest of this blethering and pop off to your next tabbed quick fix you web skank. If you'd like a little more detail, continue to encourage the collaboration 'twixt eye and mind and about a grand of words later (I checked - AND it includes those bound to these parentheses) you'll have a little more insight into precisely why you should definitely not but maybe or absolutely check out this book with your pounds and time. Come with me now to the second paragraph, you.
Trainspotting, if you've not read it, is a book you should probably read. If you've at all enjoyed the film, it's ain't no thang but a sure thang that you'll enjoy the book, as famous for its prose rendered in Scottish dialect as the severity of most of its characters actions and the total sense of otherworldliness within our own world that it offers. It manages to make its bunch of now-iconic vagabonds into people you're happy to be around, even when they're up to their worst (copping off with a brother's newly widowed wife at his wake or impotently instigating extreme violence in a pub for an evening's amusement), and is in every sense a page turner, a hardtoputdowner, and a fucking great book. It's only £3 in Waterstones as well, so if you prefer your pages paper to pixelated then it'll not break the bank.
THEN STOP! If you like, read its sequel, Porno, which I remember also being quite good if a little unnecessary, and then just step out of it all. I'll admit it: I'm a fairweather Welsh reader. I'm the Welsh reader equivalent of someone who goes to a Gotye concert and pouts until and after "Somebody That I Used To Know" is played. Coming off the back of as dulling an experience as reading Skagboys, I'm comfortable admitting this. Trainspotting is a brilliant book, novel or read (delete as applicable) if not exactly a story. Skagboys, like an unfortunately misinformed younger brother following in his elder superstar sibling's tracks, is also devoid of a plot, but rather than getting by, like Trainspotting did, on merit of a nova-sized explosion of energy and encapsulation, it just meanders, doddling along for 548 pages shooting at targets as varied as British identity, holistic investigation and poignancy and missing each by a mile.
I imagine if I'd read more of Welsh's books it'd be even easier to tire of his trademark mixture of the profane and the mundane, like if you've been listening to AC/DC since For Those About To Rock was released, but seeing as this is only the third book of his I've read I can only presume than rather than it being a stuttering on his engine's part it is indeed simply a case of a bad book being released when it should have halted at conception or at the very least been cut clean in half. Sick Boy, Renton, Spud, Matty, Alison and the Generalissimo Franco Begbie return but, as I alluded to earlier then forgot to follow up before tying myself into another paragraph altogether, the way they behave in Skagboys leaves them hard to get behind (save for Begbie whose reliably deplorable take on human interaction makes every starring chapter a shame-inducing vicarious thrill) and once this is realised the book begins to drag like a big long cigarette full of tar, nicotine and boredom. Mark Renton in particular, once again the primary focus, comes across like a poxy student wanker, and though he realises half his pretensions and acknowledges them in schizophrenic journal entries the other half, coupled with his conflicting attitudes towards his friends, his disabled brother and everything else just makes me want to tear the pages out and mâché them into a three foot effigy of Ewan McGregor to set alight and stamp out. Sick Boy gets involved in pimping, Begbie hospitalises the brothers of a girl he's gotten pregnant, Brian Nixon ventures into a dumpster to rescue a dog he finds eating the aborted fruits of his liason with a vindictive ex, and despite all this the whole book - the whole book - feels as desperate and soulless as most of its cast. Like I explained to everyone who asked me what I was reading as I chugged through the book at work (fair cop: shouldn't have been reading in the break room), Skagboys is full of exciting situations but it's so boring to read. I don't think that Welsh's style has dried up, I just think that the book shouldn't be and it shows. Perhaps if things hadda developed slowly to give some sense of weight to the inevitable addiction to heroin that dominates Trainspotting it may have acted as a focus, a throughline, but I'm not spoiling much to say that those who're on the stuff end up on it within the first 80 pages and the remainder of the book deals with their scheming and efforts to procure some more of the white (later brown) stuff while espousing quasi-philosophy and generally acting horrible to each other. Not much of a pitch, right?
It's not great.
It's not without the odd flash of greatness but it's like a torchman looking for someone in a square mile of fog. Just before the end, Renton suggests that their lives aren't worthy of being made the subject of a film, and it feels a little like Welsh is spitting at you, spitting a nasty mulchy gob half made of words and half of contempt. It's such a cheap gag and comes across like the last refuge of someone who couldn't resist, as in actually could not stop themselves, from including it. I understand this is a little more personal than the more glaring inadequacies I mentioned earlier but if it had come any earlier than within the last five pages I'd have straight up abandoned the book. Because I paid for it, I felt compelled to push through, but I'll never be reading it again and if you want it, you can have it.
*A day ago.