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 fucking embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye've produced. Choose life.
Well, I choose no tae choose life. If the cunts cannae handle that, it's thair fuckin problem. As Harry Lauder sais, ah jist intend tae keep right on to the end of the road . . .
That's the quote, that's from the book, and as every review of Trainspotting seems to start out with one dilution or another of these lines, I better not break tradition. Yeah, choose . . . choose . . . choose something, that's what this novel is about, that's what the film adaptation is about, that's what the whole fucking environment, the whole generation dubbed "Gen X" is really about: You may not like the idea, but you have to choose something. You can choose to be a junky, an anarchist, a punk; you can choose to be a parent, a functional member of society, what we in my country (never without a tinge of irony) call the "American Dream." You can choose to be a total waste of a human being if you want. What you can't do is not choose.
Trainspotting is a book about heroin.
Trainspotting is a book about depravity.
Trainspotting is a book about fucking underage women, about beating bums in the street, about the maxim that there are "Nae friends in this game. Jist associates," about bar brawls and rape and rude bodily functions. The language is harsh and caustic. The characters are often detestable. There are scenes in this novel that will probably make you ill (there's a short chapter involving a saturated tampon that I just can't get over . . .). But I'm not saying this is inappropriate. The dialect of this novel is Scottish soccer-hooligan speak, the location Edinburgh, the point-of-view varied. This novel reads like a set of stories told in a pub, told by each of the half-a-dozen central characters (mixed with a few told in the third person) that follow the rough chronology of Mark Renton's attempts to kick heroin and leave Edinburgh.
Because, more than anything, this is a novel about gravity. It's about that one place we each have that keeps sucking us back in, that keeps sucking us back down. It could be a home town, a college town, a neighborhood, whatever--what it really is is the place where, when you're there, you're not allowed to reinvent or improve yourself. Your friends, your associates, won't let you. Your memories won't allow it.
We go fir a pish in the auld Central Station at the fit ay the walk, now a barren, desolate hangar, which is soon tae be demolished and replaced by a supermarket and swimming centre. Somehow, that makes me sad, even though ah wis eywis too young tae mind ay trains ever being there.
--Some size ay a station this wis. Git a train tae anywhair fae here, at one time, or so they sais, ah sais, watchin ma streaming pish splash ontae the cauld stane.
--If it still hud fuckin trains, ah'd be oan one oot ay this fuckin dive, Begbie said.
"Trainspotting" is defined in the novel's short glossary as "keeping obsessive notes on the arrival and departure of trains." People actually do this. The use of this title is probably more than a little ironic, as the rush of heroin, sex, alcohol, Iggy Pop concerts, violence, and so on, could be seen as the polar opposite to such a mundane pastime as writing down the numbers of passing trains. Then again, heroin users who are far enough along into their addictions are known to do very little (staring at walls, etc.) except for when the withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in.
Trainspotting is not an easy read, not right away. Much like Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, this novel relies upon a fairly heavy dose of slang (and, at least in the American edition, includes a glossary) to ground it in a particular place and time. Combined with the phonetic spellings ("ah" for "I," "fae" for "from," etc.) this dialect takes a while (at least for an American like myself) to catch. Welsh also, much like James Joyce, rejects the quotation mark as punctuation, using instead a dash to denote the beginning of a spoken passage. This may be disconcerting at first. I found, once I'd grown used to these conventions, however, the flow of this novel gained a very realistic "spoken aloud" feel. Welsh knows what he is doing.
Life's boring and futile. We start oaf wi high hopes, then we bottle it. We realize that we're aw gounnae die, withoot really findin oot the big answers. We develop aw they long-winded ideas which jist interpret the reality ay oor lives in different weys, withoot really extending oor body ay worthwhile knowledge, about the big things, the real things. Basically, we live a short, disappointing life; and then we die. We fill up oor lives wi shite things like careers and relationships tae delude oorsels that it isnae aw totally pointless. Smack's an honest drug, because it strips away those delusions. Wi smack, whin ye feel good, ye feel immortal. Whin ye feel bad, it intensifies the shite that's already thair. It's the only really honest drug. It doesnae alter yir consciousness. It just gies ye a hit and a sense ay well-being. Eftir that, ye see the misery ay the world as it is, and ye cannae anaesthetise yirsel against it.
Heroin is a rush. Junk, skag, dope, smack--there's no point pretending that it doesn't feel good, because there would be no heroin problem if it didn't. I'm sorry if you don't like this, if this is seen as something of a "pro-drug" statement. Trainspotting has been accused of glorifying drugs. Trainspotting will, in the future, certainly be condemned by a number of "literary" types for glorifying drugs, perhaps not given the place it deserves in late-twentieth-century literature. I bet Welsh has gotten hate mail. I bet, somewhere in the messed-up world, someone actually read the following words and was provoked to shoot up:
Take yir best orgasm, multiply the feeling by twenty, and you're still fucking miles off the pace. Ma dry, cracking bones are soothed and liquified by ma beautiful heroine's tender caresses. The earth moved, and it's still moving.
If I were confronted with something like "you wrote something that made me try heroin," I'd probably say I was sorry. I'd probably say, "I wish there was something I could do," and then walk away. Welsh gives the impression that he would instead, without hesitation, say "fuck off." He knows his subject, and he's not about to pretend anything (one way or the other) about the drug. You screw yourself, too bad for you. You screw yourself and then try to blame someone else, too bad for you, and you're an asshole.
Trainspotting is ugly, depraved, brutal, tragic, and unrelenting. It's also smart, funny, meaningful, effective, and one of the best novels written in the 1990's in the English language. I'm not certain I'd ever want to meet Irvine Welsh, but I will certainly be reading the next few books he writes.
by Irvine Welsh
First American Edition
349 pages, © 1996
by Irvine Welsh
W. W. Norton & Company
: 0-393-31480-4 (Paperback)
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