‘Trainspotting’ by Irvine Welsh


It’s not just about heroin.

Trainspotting. It’s just about a group of rough Scottish heroin addicts, right? Wrong! Well I mean that is part of it, but that’s definitely not all of it. I’ll admit that I bought the book mainly for the lovely Vintage Classics bright orange pages and cover, and the fact that I just wanted to say I’d read it due to its reputation and supposed greatness…

However, it far exceeded my expectations. Once I got used to the majority of it being written in Edinburgh slang dialect, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My initial thoughts were: ‘I can’t read this. Trying to decipher what they’re saying is going to make me give up.’ but once I figured out certain words and native phrases then I was fine; if anything I think it enhanced the book and made it a completely different literary experience to any that I’ve had before.

The book is centred on the character Rents, a guy in his twenties who yes, is a heroin addict. With a lack of ambition and few prospects, the book begins with him filling his days with getting his fixes and hanging out with his mates. His various friends and acquaintances are very accurate and representative of those characters that most of us have known or come across at some point in our own lives. Allison – a young single mother, Tommy – the seemingly innocent member of the group (although wait until later in the book…), Spud – an amusing, simple-minded character, Sick Boy – Rents’ blunt-speaking and cutting best friend, Begbie – a character who I think is quite insane and pretty scary; as well as several other minor characters, each contributing something extra to the book and Rents’ story in their own unique, entertaining and often shocking way.

Although heroin is a pretty big part of Rents’ life and story, I really didn’t feel as though that defined his character at all. Despite all of his struggles and experiences with the drug, it never masks the profound insights that he has about life. Insights that you wouldn’t expect from such a character: “Still, failure, success, what is it? Whae gies a fuck. We aw live, then we die, in quite a short space ay time n aw. That’s it; end ay fuckin story.” I also found the depiction of his heroin addiction to be incredibly believable; it’s raw and painful to read at times – the desperation, the longing for a fix, the relief when that fix is acquired and delivered. This book certainly doesn’t shy away from realism in any way, and that’s what makes it so brilliant to read. I think it challenges the stereotype of a heroin addict, or any addict for that matter. You assume that all an addict can think about is their next fix, and how they’re almost the worthless members of society; but in this book, drugs are merely a part of the characters’ lives, not their life in its entirety. Just because your mind may be focused on the next fix, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have the same thoughts, feelings and emotions as a non-addict.

If you think, like I did, that the book is only from Rents perspective, then you’d be wrong. What I like about this novel is that you experience a range of different characters’ perspectives and both first and third person narratives from chapter to chapter, it just makes it that bit more engaging. One thing that I did sometimes struggle with throughout this book was knowing exactly who was talking. A lot of the time it was reasonably easy to figure out, when the narrator was spoken to by another character for example, but other times I’d have to re-read paragraphs to clarify whose perspective I was actually reading. Although this may have been intentional, I’m not sure. Either that or I’m just not intelligent enough to figure out who’s talking! It certainly didn’t take away any of the enjoyment though, and it didn’t put me off the book at all.

If you want a book to take away with you on your summer holidays, to read whilst you lounge around a pool, then I’d say this may not be the best one, unless you’ve read a lot of ‘complicated’ books before. It’s an intense read (and without being clichéd, it’s very gritty and hard-hitting) and so requires you to invest a certain amount of time and attention in it. You really do have to think about what you’re reading. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but if you want something really relaxing and easy to read then this definitely isn’t it. Whilst this book isn’t what you’d call a classic ‘page-turner’ there are most certainly some points at which you just can’t help but carry on reading. Without spoiling anything for you, it’s usually the more graphic/disgusting moments… There were some instances in this book which made me express my shock out loud, and when I read them out to Kelly then she did the same. Even if you’ve seen the film, nothing could prepare you for one excerpt towards the end! But however gruesome and revolting they are, it’s never in a way which makes you want to put the book down, and whilst they may seem unnecessary, I don’t think that this is something that the book should be criticised for.

To conclude, it’s not just about heroin. It’s about life. And they never actually do any trainspotting… Suffice to say, I wasn’t disappointed. It was an amusing and entertaining read from start to finish and I’m definitely going to make the prequel one of my next book purchases.

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