Although he is best known for his debut novel, “Trainspotting,” this is, in my opinion, Welsh’s finest achievement. I recommend it above all others.
One of Irvine Welsh’s talents is his sensitivity to language. He captures the true voices of his characters. Although this is often a barrier to American audiences who don’t know what words like “bairn,” and “ken,” mean, the reader eventually settles into the rhythm of Scottish dialect, and soon sentences like “Ye’ll huv tae learn tae stick up fir yirsel!” feel natural. This novel, like his others, exists in the shared universe of his fiction and examines the ramifications of racial and economic oppression. Because the narrative exists in the head of a coma patient, Welsh is free to drift across time and levels of consciousness. Font and text arrangement also figure prominently in his experiments with voice.
This novel is ultimately about subjectivity, how identity is formed. In fact, the narrative and themes intersect concepts of this course. As the narrator observes, “All I have is the data I get. I don’t care whether it’s produced by my senses or my memory or my imagination. Where it comes from is less important than the fact that it is” (16). What is being communicated here is the relationship between identity and culture. The process of self construction is internal, but it cannot be divorced from sensation, context and environment. As human beings we synthesize a complex variety of messages (“data”) to shape our identities. Often we have little control over what shapes us. This is true for Roy, the narrator of Welsh’s novel.