Books: New Review: Skagboys by Irvine Welsh

Mark Renton’s life gears into life with eight birthday cards from girly-wirlies that don’t even include his mum and sister, in Irvine Welsh’s monstrosity of a prequel to Trainspotting. ‘Sweet as you fucking well like.’

This is 80s Edinburgh and Thatcher’s government has destroyed working-class opportunities all over Britain. Mark Renton had youth, a pretty girlfriend, and a place at university but as his family crumbles his life swings away from his council hutch and out of control. And Renton’s motley crew of mates are in the same boat; unemployed and tempted by lives of petty crime and violence, they are pulled to the street, and into the arms of the substances that let you float high above it.

This is the journey of Renton, Begbie and Spud, boys about town, who go large on the Northern soul that pumps the city and drives an infatuation with speed, coke, snortable substances that make the beat pump through your heart, in a city that falls apart. Afganhi and Pakistani heroine floods the street and Renton’s motley crew become enthralled with China white; the black economy that diverts the burden of misery.

Unlike Trainspotting though, this tells a different story and explores how the characters Welsh considers his first love got into the mess they end up in, not how they get out of it. Originally part of its sequel, this is the section Welsh cut off when he sent Trainspotting to the publishers, the part that he first thought a back-story but then picked back up when he couldn’t leave his characters alone.

A smack-injecting Clockwork Orange, this is a modern classic about a welcome slip into unconsciousness, the escapist attempts of the people left by the wayside by their own government. Like skeletal puppets Welsh’s characters cut themselves from the strings that tie them to society and waste in the process.

Skagboys is a slog; nearly 600 pages of phonetic Scottish and smack-addiction is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s well worth a read. The prequel to an incomparable modern classic, and with film-discussion already on the way, Renton’s ‘bored oot ay ma skull, man’, but there’s not a chance you will be.

Skagboys is available now from Jonathan Cape.

words: Peter Perkins

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