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Irvine Welsh: Trainspotting

Trainspotting was the novel that made Welsh famous. Both as a novel and then as a film, it was commercially and critically successful and clearly resonated for a generation of disaffected, drug-using young people. It is written as a series of linked short stories, with not a great deal of coherent plot, beyond following a group of young people from Leith near Edinburgh, who either use heroin or know people who use heroin. Much of the novel is narrated in the first person and Mark Renton (known as Rent Boy or Rents) is the main character. Renton is a heroin user. The other main characters are Sick Boy, Renton’s best friend, who uses sex to control women and who is a part-time heroin user; Spud, a naïve but likeable young man who uses heroin to feel good; Begbie, known as a Franco, a sociopath who does not use heroin but does use other drugs and drinks heavily and who is very violent; Tommy who initially does not use heroin till his girlfriend leaves him and then uses heroin and gets infected with HIV from using dirty needles.

Much of the novel shows the poverty and desperation of the main characters and their use of drugs to escape their drab world. Renton does briefly break out of the habit when working in London but finds out that he is just as much hooked on his friends as he is on heroin and reverts to his old habits with them and with the drugs. Welsh tells his story with much feeling for his characters but also much wit. He does not, as has been suggested, justify drug use but does accept it as a relatively normal aspect of life in the world of his main characters. This book is not for everyone as there is no happy ending and no redeeming social values but there is a story of a life that does exist, whatever we might think of it

Publishing history

First published 1993 by Secker & Warburg