Skagboys by Irvine Welsh

1993 was the year in which Irvine Welsh was flung into the bestseller/cult realm with his debut, Trainspotting. Since then, he has continued to riff on ideas of masculinity, and other, bleaker, aspects of life.

I was thrilled to listen to Welsh at Adelaide Writers’ Week in 2010, and to learn he was working on a prequel to Trainspotting. Yes, that’s right. Antihero Mark Renton, the womanising Sick Boy, Spud and the volatile Francis Begbie are back, and they’re up to all sorts of malarkey. Reading Trainspotting and Porno (although less so) you can’t help wondering what it was that went awry in Renton’s life for him to start using heroin. This prequel explains all of this, making it essential reading.

Again, Renton is firmly at the centre of this book, which begins with the infamous industrial dispute of 1984, the Battle of Orgreave. Welsh superbly charts specific episodes that are crucial to Renton’s spiralling out (and back in, and out) of control. As the drugs take hold, Renton ignores all advice to the contrary, continuing down his chosen path. One can draw a number of parallels between Skagboys and the works of Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Peppered with ‘junky dilemma’ soliloquies, Welsh invites readers into the psyche of his characters and as with Trainspotting, he neatly inserts some stats that not only contextualise the novel but juxtapose the antics of these lads and serve as a sobering reminder of the effects of drug use.

Skagboys is a great read, and you can tell that Welsh is most comfortable here because he knows these guys better than anyone. He’s a brilliant storyteller and I couldn’t help but become invested in the characters’ journeys.

Julia Jackson is from Readings Carlton