Who Knew Violent Heroin Addiction Could Be So Fun?

Hello, I am officially done with book #33 of 2015, and it was a doozie (what does that even mean?) No but I really liked it, even though it took me a bit to get into it, and I think I know why. I read Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll confess that I’d already seen the movie. I swear it’s only because I didn’t know there even was a book, though! Don’t hold it against me. Plus, I loved the movie, and after finishing the book I really do feel like it mostly did it justice. Then again, Ewan McGregor somehow looks great portraying a heroin addict, so I could just be biased.

I think if you’re familiar with the book or the movie, you’ll understand why it took me so long to get into the novel. Everything is spelled phonetically, and almost all the main characters are from Leith, Scotland, or speak with Cockney English accents. Typing that book up in a Word doc must have been a nightmare before Welsh turned off the spellcheck feature, because there are very few recognizable, spelled-correctly English words in the majority of the chapters.

It was a cool experience to read a book like that, though. I felt like I almost needed a warm-up or something. I never read unless I knew I had at least half an hour to commit to the book, kind of like exercise. I’m not going to run for 8 minutes, I’d only just start to elevate my heart rate if I did that. Similarly, I’m not going to read Trainspotting for only 8 minutes, as that was generally how long it took me to get used to the accent and the misspelled words.

There was also a lot of narration switches, and pretty much every character, at different points, went by their first name, their last name, and at least one other nickname (many had two nicknames.) So that made it a little difficult to follow as well.

Anyway, I loved the story once I did get into it. It follows a small group of Scottish heroin addicts, on and off the heroin wagon at different points in the novel. As you might imagine, a lot of it was irreverent, and the whole novel contains tons of really dark humor, crude language, and extremely crass scenarios.

A lot of the book is narrated by Renton (aka Ewan McGregor in a lot of tiny t-shirts, mmm). Renton has tried and failed many times to kick his heroin habit, and even spends time analyzing his own self-destructive behavior from many different psychological perspectives. He is a wonderful anomaly, incredibly smart and knowledgeable, but also more than willing to discuss his commitment (addiction) to heroin.

Renton also gives up on almost everything he starts, partly due to the heroin but also before he started using. It’s hard to take anything he says really seriously, but he is often the only real voice of reason in the novel. He surrounds himself with other addicts, some borderline sociopaths, and just generally violent, bad people.

The characters are all unlikable, but also so flawed that they become loveable. They’re all self-destructive and consistently make so many mistakes that you can’t help but feel sorry for them, and wonder whether they really did bring it all on themselves like they’re often accused of.

It’s a fast-paced novel that challenges preconceived notions but also affirms some stereotypes, makes you question who is living life “the right way,” and even kind of makes a case for those ruining their own lives with drugs and reckless decisions. And it was really good, everyone (of a certain age) should read it immediately.

Also, look for a race recap from Saturday’s Marion Arts Festival half marathon really soon, and I apologize for its lateness! ◊

Society invents a spurious convoluted logic tae absorb and change people whae’s behaviour is outside the mainstream. Suppose that ah ken aw the pros and cons, know that ah’m gaunnae huv a short life, am ay sound mind, etcetera, etcetera, but still want tae use smack? They won’t let ye dae it. They won’t let ye dae it, because it’s seen as a sign ay thir ain failure. The fact that ye jist simply choose tae reject whit they huv tae offer. Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.”

– page 187, (pardon the language, but interesting idea, right?)

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