Filth (Irvine Welsh)

Filth is a novel by Irvine Welsh. [I reviewed the movie adaptation here.]

Bruce Robertson is every bad stereotype of a police man: he’s a misanthropic, sexist, racist, power-obsessed asshole who is supposed to investigate the death of a black journalist. Instead he’d rather think about how to get the promotion to Detective Inspector, even though he doesn’t actually like doing his job. But Bruce is not only an asshole, all is not right with him in general. As his convoluted intrigues become ever more complicated, his mental state continues to deteriorate.

Bruce Robertson is an intriguing character and Welsh really gets inside his head. Which meant that it wasn’t always easy to read Filth, but it was a rewarding read.



Sometimes there were moments were it felt like I was missing part of the plot. And I don’t mean the things that were only alluded to at first and I don’t mean the bits where the tape worm takes over, but just bits inbetween, as if a couple of pages were missing and suddenly we’re in a different situation. It is possible that that was because I didn’t read it too well (I mostly read it as I was falling asleep), but I don’t usually have that problem, even in the same situation.

And yes, you read that right: Bruce Robertson has a tape worm and said worm sometimes takes over the narrative. At first I thought that it was gonna be revealed that Robertson has some alien parasite in himself, but it’s a perfectly terrestial, if probably particular articulate parasite. And it’s quite the literary construction to have a worm living inside your protagonist narrate from time to time.

Robertson is an asshole. He is sexist, racist, misanthropic, scheming and obsessed with power. That’s why it’s not really very pleasant to spend time in his head. And at first he’s just that. And then he keeps crossing the line from being an asshole into actually pathological behavior again and again. Bit by bit you watch Robertson fall apart. And Welsh gives neither the reader nor Robertson any quarter, until the once so powerful police man (who is basically an exaggerated destillation of male power) crumbles completely. At the end, he’s not only reduced from the role of male aggressor but he is pushed into female powerlessness, which is as exaggerated as that version of male power. And I do mean that quite literally: Not only is he raped, he turns himself into his wife. [I could probably write a paper or two on the gender dynamics in this book, especially in relation to power.]

The ending didn’t make me very happy here, either, but I did like it better than the movie’s ending. And what the movie lacked a little was the rhyming slang – I enjoyed that a lot.

Summarizing: it’s a book that always made me want to turn the next page, even if sometimes out of sheer disgust. But it’s worth to work through the hard parts.


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