It is hard to believe, but Trainspotting is now 20 years old. The book, anyway. It seems that Welsh needs to revisit the main characters every 10 years, as 2002 saw a sequel, Porno, and then last year came this prequel. While I haven’t read the sequel, I did read the original prior to the film adaptation. The sheer breathtaking scope, the viscerally unpleasant episodes and the fantastic array of awful characters in the book are all the reasons I loathe the stupid movie, but I digress. The prospect of a prequel intrigued me, so I dived in.
This book is absolutely immense. Essentially a huge collection of short stories with a vague through line that connects them all, it takes all the main Trainspotters and details their initial contact with heroin and descent into addiction. At one point, during the longest chapter of the book, Renton suspects that everyone has a “junky War & Peace” in them. It’s a tad hyperbolic to apply that description to this book, but you get the idea. Welsh doesn’t simply tell the story of a bunch of youths trying smack, he sets their story into a much bigger social, political and historical aspect. Those points are driven home by short chapters which punctuate the action with cold hard truths.
Essentially, if you’re a fan of Welsh and the original novel, it’s likely you have already read this. There’s little concession to those who are coming to it cold. There is still masses of phonetic Scottish first person narrative going on (Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud all narrate their stories phonetically, Spud being the least penetrable of the lot). The book jumps around between locations and narrators, sometimes first person, sometimes third person. Even for someone who has read Trainspotting, this can be a little bewildering at first.
Bewildering or not, I can’t recommend enough that you stick with it. Once you have your head around the structure and the dialect, this is a hugely rewarding read. As funny as it is absolutely appalling, Welsh has always had the ability to make the reader laugh one minute and recoil in horror the next. While the overall tone is lighter, and there may be nothing here as disturbing as the “Bad Blood” chapter in Trainspotting, there’s still plenty of here to make you grimace and guffaw. Occasionally at the same time.