Irvine Welsh’s twelfth book sees the writer return to the Leith streets that provided the backdrop to his astonishing debut novel, Trainspotting.
Twenty years on from the book that launched them, Skagboys reunites us with the heroes and villains that ran amok in a story
that went on to define British cinema of the 1990s and propel director Danny
Boyle to Oscar glory some twelve years later.
Sick Boy, Renton, Tommy, Spud and the terrifying Generalisimo Begbie are all in attendance, and as one would expect,
they’re up to absolutely no good at all. Indeed,
Skagboys provides the first time that many of these characters have gathered on the page since
Welsh’s 2002 novel Porno,
in which Renton and his cast of friends and anti-friends come together in order to make some dirty cash out of DIY porn movies.
Intended to stand as a prequel to Trainspotting, Skagboys opens up halfway
Thatcher’s unholy reign over the 1980s and tells the story of that decade from the perspective of those at its sharp end.
According to Welsh, much of the book began life as background notes, written at the same time as his first novel.
He maintains that the material was not intended for inclusion in Trainspotting,
but instead to satisfy his own curiosity about the characters he was creating, getting to know them as well as he could before loosing them on the world.
It means that some of the familiar faces in Skagboys are a little harder to recognize at first.
When we first meet Renton, for example, life is good.
He has a steady girlfriend and a place at University,
not a habit that has him diving down toilets and watching dead babies climb the walls.
The journey that then takes him and his friends from hope to heroin is imbued throughout with
Welsh’s trademark stark portrayals of tragedy,
horror and dark humour, amid reflections on everything from friendship to the human cost of politics.
Of course, the success of Trainspotting will have many comparing the two novels directly, and while Welsh’s debut novel remains his best,
Skagboys is still the writer at his most macabre,
shocking, funny and sharp, allowing a relatively small tale to tell a much bigger story indeed.
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