Jump to content


Rex Ham

Recommended Posts



Dangerous food poison

review by Neel Mukherjee






LET?S CALL A SPADE a spade ? Irvine Welsh?s sixth novel is so awful that, to paraphrase James Wood, it invents its own category of awfulness.


His first, Trainspotting, was hailed as energetic, dissonant ? the true sound of a literary dissident charting with raw authenticity the slimy underbelly of the drug culture that blights Scotland?s inner cities.


It was a runaway success, Danny Boyle?s film version put it firmly on the cultural map, and Welsh found that the trick could be repeated for ever. The middle classes, it seems, cannot get enough of urban hell, especially when represented in Scottish orthography.


Five novels later Welsh is still doing his substance-abuse-in-Edinburgh shtick, but it has become a meaningless brand ? look carefully and you can almost see the TM symbol ? emptied of all authenticity, forced and false. Like most such products, it should go straight in the bin.


For all that its title tries shamelessly to cash in on the glut of celebrity chefs and cookery shows, it is neither about bedroom secrets nor master chefs but about Danny Skinner, a 23-year-old environmental health inspector with Edinburgh council, in charge of restaurant inspections.


Is he a swearing, hard-drinking, womanising, vomiting, dry-heaving, angry, jittery, masculine rough boy? What do you think? (However, Welsh puts Baudelaire and Verlaine on his bookshelf to tell us that he is actually really, really sensitive.) Skinner develops an irrational and extreme hatred ? represented by filling up pages with the word HATE in upper case (and C*** and F***, of course, otherwise how can one get ?true? urban grit-lit?) ? for the nerdy Brian Kibby who comes to work at the council.


Skinner is angry because his mother refuses to tell him who his father is. He develops a drinking problem. He puts a hex on Kibby whereby the poor Star Trek and games- obsessed geek suffers for all Skinner?s excesses of alcohol abuse, footie fights and other misdemeanours. Kibby becomes so ill that he needs a liver transplant and has to give up his job.


Skinner?s search for his father takes him to San Francisco and back. He understands what he has done to Kibby and tries to undo it. Unknown to him, the search for his father appears about to end far closer to home than he would have thought.


Welsh is keen to tell us that he is rewriting The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, so ? with the subtlety for which he has become renowned ? he namechecks them in an act of furious oversignalling. It makes you want to punish Wilde and Stevenson for having had the misfortune to fall into the hands of this ?writer?.


The book is a toyshop of pure MDF cutouts. The characters, situations, storyline, prose ? everything is so risible in its inability to convince on even the most rudimentary levels that it appears as if Welsh has telephoned it in on a very bad line. Characters lurch from one mood to another, not in any convincing, I-contain-multitudes sort of way, but with the jerkiness of marionettes being manipulated by a puppeteer who has no idea of what he is doing. Every single premise ? council health inspections, the restaurant trade, the basic family unit ? is such a stunning model of lack of conviction that the book should become a textbook on how not to write fiction.


At one point, Skinner is asked why his absurdly well-stocked bookshelf doesn?t have any Scottish fiction. He replies: ?Not for me. If I want swearing and drug-taking, I?ll step outside the front door and get it.? Tongue-in-cheek? No, something far more insidious.


Having made ?swearing and drug-taking? coterminous with Scottish fiction, Welsh both inscribes himself as its truest practitioner and trivialises those Scots who have brought to British writing the blazing magnificence that it possesses: Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Alasdair Gray, James Kelman, Janice Galloway, A. L. Kennedy, Ali Smith. He is a low slur to that company.


This is a demeaning book that cants the reader?s soul downwards, making it feel complicit with the writer?s dishonest short-changing of his readership, telling them that this lazy, dishonest, appallingly written rubbish is the real thing while laughing all the way to the bank as a result of our gullibility. Those howls of rage of his early years have turned to the empty baying of a dog. Take him away.



So, he's not everyone's cup of tea then! :unsure:


Trainspotting and Marabou Stork Nightmares aside, I think they're enjoyable reads, if not particularly memorable. Surely thats the deal with him though isn't it?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...