Friday, October 1, 2010

Irvine Welsh

Reheated Cabbage (Tales of chemical degeneration).

Within this book, all bar one of the stories have appeared before. The majority having been published in an assortment of magazines and compilations, described by the author, "as toe-curling Scotsploitation & drugsploitation  anthologies that were prevalent in the 90's".

This collection of eight stories, starts with A fault on the line, in which the main character's desire to watch the football at all costs,  results in his wife's legs being ripped off by a speeding train & whilst on the ambulance journey to the hospital, he is working out how he can watch the footie. In the second tale (Catholic guilt), we meet Joe, probably the most homophobic, gay-bashing individual ever to darken the pages of a book, who dies whilst having sex with his mate's sister. The story ends with him condemned to spend eternity buggering men he has known, as penance for his ways. Then we get to the third tale (Elspeth's boyfriend) in which Welsh reintroduces us to Begbie. Francis Begbie is the most psychotically toxic & malevolent character that Irvine Welsh ever created. He first came to my notice in "Trainspotting" where he would lob full pint glasses over a balcony onto the people below, as a prelude to starting a fight. In this tale, it's xmas at his mums house & Begbie ends up nutting his sisters fiancé, for the crime of ------- saving him from choking to death (he slaps him on the back).

"Ah smacks the nut ontae the cunt, n eh faws back, hudin ehs face. Thaire's screams fae the women n the bairns n Joe's ower n ehs goat a grip ay ma airm . --- what ur fuckin daein, Franco? The boy helped ye! Eh saved yir fuckin life!

Eh battered ays oan the back in muh ma's hoose! Nae cunt lays thair hands oan me! In muh ma's hoose, oan Christmas day!

And so on, in the 4th tale, we meet a misogynist, in the 5th, Aliens addicted to embassy cigarettes & speaking with Scottish accents (Midlothian), who want to replace the world's leaders with Scottish thugs. The 6'th, we have two mates carrying around the corpse of an old friend. In the 7'th two guys fight over a girl, then after a pint & a few pills realise their friendship matters more.

Which leads us to the final tale & the only new tale in this collection, "I am Miami". In this story Albert Black, a once puritanical schoolteacher, although now retired & living with his son in Miami, spends his time reading the bible & denouncing all the hedonism & sinfulness around him, alienating himself from his family & pretty much everyone he comes into contact with. This is until one day he bumps into an old pupil, now a successful DJ & through a combination of events (& drugs), he realises how hard he has been on everybody, himself included & that because of his strictness as a teacher, the pupils understood he never gave up on them. So this story ends on a note of redemption, even if it's only because the ex pupils had taken Ecstasy & not their usual Cocaine, which as one of them says, would probably have ended with them kicking the shit out of their old teacher.

I was going to be facetious & state that this book should be translated into English, but that would be doing it & myself a disservice, although a lot is written in the  patois of Welsh's Edinburgh roots, the rhythm of it soon becomes natural & easy to follow & in the process shades in the characters, adding another dimension to them. This is necessary, as to find any redeeming  features in this cast of misanthropic, misogynistic drug & drink addled individuals is going to take every trick in the writer's repertoire. Thankfully Irvine Welsh's tricks bag is full, this book is overflowing with humour, some of it sly, sneaking up on you when you least expect it (Catholic guilt) & some of it coming right up and smashing Brutish & funny, Brilliantly ghastlyyou in the guts with a baseball bat (The Rosewell incident), but all of it full of zest, full of an energy that screams life. I will add one proviso, if you are the slightest bit shocked or offended by tales of extreme sex, drugs & mindless violence, or of a language that's so caustic it could strip flesh! Do not touch this, for everyone else, this collection of short stories is very dark, very bitter & very, very funny & also when you least expect it, very moving.

Irvine Welsh (Wikipedia)


Contemporary Writers


Bellezza said...

Your description of each one has me mesmerized...they sound so very powerful, from the football to the buggering to the teaching. That last one would resonate in my heart, as I always hope that I'm positively effecting my students. (And, I don't give them ecstasy or cocaine. Just good old affirmation :) I love stories that examine our 'sinful' sides, leaving a powerful inpact in their wake, causing us to examine human nature.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Bellezza the last tale is a powerful redemption tale & it's not just the teacher that learns a valuable lesson by the end.This was one those books that you laugh with, whilst realising the ramifications of its non - PC behaviours. As to the drugs although there's a lot of it there the teacher is in total accordance with you