Renton, Sick Boy and Spud are friends. At least as much as you can be friends with anybody you share a heroin addiction with. And don’t necessarily like each other all that much. As they tumble through Edinburgh, alternatively looking to buy the next hit and to kick the habit altogether, their paths cross with the same people over and over again, people like the violent Begbie or the drunk Second Prize. They all struggle with their own problems but at least they are not stuck in the wheel of capitalism. Or that’s what Renton tells himself.
Trainspotting is at times funny, at times simply disgusting and it has surprising moments of senisitivity and clarity buried along the way. It’s not the best book ever, but it is very strong.
I read Trainspotting a long time ago – shortly after I saw the film for the first time, I think. At the time I was probably a little too young for it, and my English definitely wasn’t good enough to follow everything (especially the parts written in Scots), but I loved it anyway. Or I remember loving it. On re-reading it now, doubts kept creeping in whether I’d actually read it all. Be that as it may, I very much enjoyed reading Trainspotting now that I understand (most of) it and that I’m definitely old enough.
Most of the characters Welsh writes about are pretty unlikeable and some of them do really horrible things. But somehow Welsh manages to find the humanity in every asshole. That’s probably also due to the fact that pretty much everyone gets a chance to tell part of the story from their perspective, as the novel is basically a series of interconnected, non-linear short stories told from varying points of view. But mostly it’s because of those moments of character truths that appear every once in a while amid all the horrible things that happen.
Of course, it wouldn’t have hurt if there had been a bit more inclusion of women, but Welsh is best when he looks at masculinity(s), so in this case I’m willing to look past that. Although it is important to keep in mind that Welsh is also best when you read him with a bit of critical distance. It’s easy to start idolizing the nihilism (at least if you’re a dudebro) with which most of them go about most of their lives, but I prefer to read it as an utter indictment of a hugely problematic society. And that way, it works really well.
Summarizing: Worth it.