Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Super Boring All Like Book Review Seriousness: Skagboys

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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paul,

    I just read your website review of Skagboys by Irvine Welsh, who is one
    of my favorite authors.

    My name's Sean-Paul Thomas and I'm a relatively new author from
    Edinburgh who is just trying to establish myself right now. I have one
    book published so far, while my other books are all self published.

    I've written a new book, a kind of dark, edgy, black comedy satire, set
    in an Edinburgh Cafe during next years referendum in Scotland. Where a
    lot of weird, wonderful and quirky characters come and go throughout
    the day, sharing stories from their crazy screwed up lives. While some
    just want to voice their radical opinions on Scottish Independence.

    The book was released on December 17th and I was wondering if you would
    have time in your busy schedule to review or spotlight the novel at
    some point over the next few months.

    It's a 50/50 with the Scots/English dialect. So I think it might appeal
    more to fans of Irvine Welsh and other Scottish authors who use Scots
    dialect in their writing. Right now I'm just trying to find a select
    target audience for my work and get it out there.

    Here is a brief Synopsis.

    'WARNING 'May contain crude Scots dialect'

    Did ye ken that it's referendum day in Scotland oan the 18th of
    September 2014?

    It's also new 'Pro UK Union' chef, Richard's, first day uv work at the
    Edinburgh auld town cafe. Where tae his great displeasure, he's already
    been left oan his tod tae run the evening back shift by his sexist,
    womanising boss Brian, wi only the pretty and fiery, Pro 'Scottish
    independence' student waitress Toni, tae assist.

    Throughoot the shift Toni and Richard are visited by many weird, wacky
    and wonderfully humorous customers. Some uv whaim are jist in fur a wee
    banterous blether, sharing their radical political opinions wi any
    bampot whae'll listen a damn, efter voting on Scotland's historical day.

    Other customers though jist dinnae give a flying hoot aboot the
    Independence malarkey and jist want tae huv a quiet bite while sharing
    their ain crazy, freaky stories from their screwed up lives.

    So fae young teens discussing the extreme lengths some boys will go tae
    in order tae get their sexual kicks tae Non Educated Delinquents
    discussing a new Scotland efter Independence. Including the rebuilding
    of Hadrian's wall, strict border controls and new anti English road
    layouts. Wi aw new Gaelic road signs tae make it even harder and more
    frustratingly annoying fur any English tourist tae find their way
    aboot. Arguments and opinions begin tae get more and more heated and
    radical the closer the referendum results are tae being announced.

    There is also the blossoming relationship between the handsome Chef
    Richard and cute waitress Toni to contend wi tae, when they're both no
    up in each others faces, defending their ain beliefs and political

    So if ye enjoy yur average run uv the mill stories like ye enjoy a nice
    wee safe cup uv coffee likes, wi Milk and jist the wan sugar ken. Noo
    is the time tae take it completely bitter black... wi jist a wee pinch
    uv salt fur gid measure, ken whit ah mean.

    Warning 'May contain crude Scots dialect'

    If you would like to read the book or even just check out some sample
    chapters, then I can send you a copy in any file format you desire.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my e-mail and I hope to hear from
    you again soon, even if just to say no thanks.

    Cheers and kind regards

    Sean-Paul Thomas