I was recently walking by our New Fiction section and noticed author Irvine Welsh had a new book out. Welsh has been described by The New York Times as the “British equivalent of Chuck Palahniuk”. While I was looking it over, I discovered it was the prequel to two of my favorite books by Welsh, Trainspotting which is followed by Porno. Written twenty years after its sequels, Skagboys follows the younger years of Mark Renton as he is trying to come of age in 1980s Edinburgh, a place suffering from political struggles, violence, drugs and AIDS. While Renton seems to have it all: decent looks, a pretty girlfriend and a spot at university, life in Edinburgh has different plans for him. Margaret Thatcher’s government is destroying working class communities throughout Britatin, and Renton and friends find that their way out is heroin. In fact, “skag” is another word for heroin, hence where Welsh got the title. Skagboys provides an introduction to Renton and his friends as it explores their first forays into drugs, pimping and theft. It provides a piece of the Irving Welsh puzzle, which when complete provides insight into social anthropology which not only itemises the lives, loves, highs and lows of a generation, but also attempts a more coherent political analysis.
Welsh’s Trainspotting wasn’t recognized as original because of its subject, but the poetry of its language, which is Welsh transcribed in precise phonetics. The same is true for Skagboys. While the novel is certainly entertaining, the language seems to mesmerize the reader although difficult at first. Since the book is written in Renton’s dialect, and unfortunately doesn’t come with a glossary of terms, it’s not a book to pick up for a quick read. I found myself struggling at times and turning the pages a little slower than usual. For anyone who has read Trainspotting, or even seen the movie of the same title, Skagboys is an entertaining read. For those who haven’t been introduced to the world of Irvine Welsh yet, Skagboys might be a slightly more difficult introduction. - Kelli Tatum, Reference