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I was inevitably reminded, while reading this book, of the strange boast of trumpeter Chet Baker, a notorious addict, who took pride in how hard he worked on the jazz circuit. Baker needed to gig all the time to pay his drug bills; in a bizarre twist his need for heroin had turn him to a shining exemplar of the Puritan work ethic.
A similar process is at work in : the characters lead empty, unproductive lives, but they are constantly busy and the novel, as a result, is filled with incident and action.
Welsh masterfully works out the odd interpersonal dynamics at play here and manages, in a fragmented book filled with provocation, to pull everything together with a climactic close, one moreover designed to leave the reader mulling over the (dare I use this word in the context of such a nihilistic book?
) , accused it of glorifying drug use—and it was reportedly left off of the Booker Prize shortlist because two of the judges found it offensive.I note that his biography includes arrests for petty assaults and a conviction for vandalism.On the other hand, Welsh played guitar in rock bands, studied for an MBA at an Edinburgh university, and made money as a speculator in residential property in North London—all this before the success of is a novel about boredom, although different from that enjoyed by a "gentleman of leisure." The violence in this novel rarely has a purpose or reason; it’s merely a distraction from the characters’ dead-end lives. Under the sway of heroin, these alienated characters suddenly reveal a determination and a purpose—to feed their addiction—that they lack in other contexts.Simon 'Sick Boy' Williamson gets to play the romantic lead in the book, but he robs from the same ladies he romances, and may be the most shrewdly amoral member of the gang. Nice Guy compared to action-oriented Francis Begbie, a sociopath who probably can be considered the leader of these addicts, if only because he the most violent of the bunch.This bold alpha male also sees himself as something of a teacher, his lessons imparted by the (in Begbie’s words) "discipline ay the basebaw bat." But even Beggars's friends fear him; although having this loose cannon in their company ensures that no one else will mess with them when they are on the town.But he fares better than Spud, who ends up in prison, or Tommy, Matty, Billy and others who don't survive to the final page of .But what’s a story without a love interest or a brave man of action?Readers of Welsh’s novel are likely to mull over questions of this sort.I can't imagine anyone grappling with this book who doesn’t stop to ask, à la David Byrne: "How did we get here?William Golding's was considered a fabulistic allegory.In 1962, another British author published a novel (later turned into a successful film) about young men who adopt strange, ritualistic behavior and engage in savage acts of random violence.