Thursday, May 26, 2011

Literary Blog Hop!

Literary Blog Hop

The Blue Bookcase is once again hosting the Literary Blog Hop. This week's question is:

Talk about one author that you love and why his or her writing is unique. Please be specific.

My answer: There are about a million authors I could use to answer this question: Mark Danielewski (who's incredibly unique), Neil Gaiman (who I'm sure you're sick of hearing about), Anthony Burgess (who I'll be talking more about next month), etc. I've decided to talk about Irvine Welsh today.

I've only read one of his books, which is Trainspotting, but I'm obviously going to get around to reading his other novels, especially Porno, which is the sequal to the aforementioned book. There are several things about Welsh's writing in Trainspotting that not only make him unique, but that also make me excited to read his other works.

Use of non-linear time
Trainspotting isn't a book in the normal sense of the word. It doesn't start at the beginning and then progress through to the end. Instead, it moves forward, goes back, turns sideways, flips upside down. In short, it's a book that keeps you on your toes. There is a slight progression at times and the time frame in which the book occurs isn't incredibly long, perhaps a year or two, but for the most part you can never quite be sure of when you are. In Welsh's deft hands, this use of time isn't clumsy at all. It's well-crafted and keeps you interested in the story.

"I cannae listen tae this gadge!"
No, I didn't just have a stroke. Irvine Welsh writes Trainspotting almost completely in dialect...and it's not always the same dialect. The story takes place in Leith, Scotland, a working-class industrial town with many uneducated people. The dialect is sort of low-class and is heavy on slang, which can make it hard to follow. My copy of the book had a glossary in the back and after a while I only needed to look at it for new words. The rest of the dialect started to make sense to me pretty early on, sort of like the use of Nadsat in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. The sentence in bold up above says: "I can't listen to this guy!"

Who the heck was that and why haven't they shown up again?
Welsh's novel has several main characters: Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and, my personal favorite, Begbie. But there are other characters that pop up from time to time, some that have whole chapters devoted to them who are never seen again. The narration shifts from first person to third person and jumps from one character to the next, sometimes in the same chapter. Each chapter is a sort of short story, although some of them connect with earlier or later chapters, while others are simply stand-alones. Some give information about the main characters, while others provide context about Leith, the people, the culture, the poverty, etc. Some, in fact, seem to just sort of be there randomly.

Welsh is a superb writer, but he's a writer that takes a bit of getting used to. Trainspotting is definitely a challenging read, but it's so well-crafted that you don't mind the effort that it takes you. For me, reading this book meant speaking it out loud so that I could try and understand what they were saying in dialect. Others find the subject matter--drug addiction--to be what challenges them. Regardless, this is one book and one author that are worth looking into. Its dark humor, interesting characters, and unique way of telling a story make it one of my favorite books of all time.



  1. GREAT response! I definitely agree that Irvine Welsh is unique. I read Trainspotting ages ago and was totally blown away; it was my favorite book for a while, but if I were to read it now I'm not sure I would like it as much. I loved (and would still love) the dialect and the continually shifting P.O.V., but I seem to remember nearly all the characters being despicable. I probably won't read Porno because I'm not eager to revisit them.
    Thanks for participating in the hop!

  2. (Oh, and here's a review of Porno, in case you're interested:

  3. Leith isn't a town, it's the docklands area of Edinburgh. It's got quite posh in recent years though, yes, when Irvine Welsh wrote Trainspotting, it was the seedier part of the city. Technically I was born in Leith, so it can't have been that dodgy! ;)

    Tommy's story is the one that sticks with me the most. He had so much promise but his fall was the greatest, probbaly because he had so much more than the others in the first place.

    I find it amusing that your edition has a glossary! :)

  4. Trainspotting is utterly awesome, I read it ages ago and I still remember that you have to take your heroin when you go to the job centre so you can act normal and get money to buy more heroin... Not that I've ever used this tactic in my life lok! Porno is excellent too, and totally about what you think it is! I have to disagree on one point though- Renton is probably my favourite :)

  5. Christina: Thanks! I fell in love with the movie first but the book is just as amazing. I like that the characters are so awful and I'm definitely looking forward to reading Porno just so I can see how much further they have devolved. :) Thanks for the link. I already told Kayleigh I wouldn't read her review until after I read the book. At least, I think I did. If not, Kayleigh, that's why I won't read your review yet.

    Ellie: Sorry! Sometimes my "stupid Yank" shows. LOL. I've been wanting to go to Scotland for so long but financially I can't do it. My knowledge of the country is so limited that sometimes I say things without realizing how wrong they are. I agree about Tommy, especially in the film version. They added stuff to his character that had belonged to other characters in the book, making his downfall even more touching and sad. It *is* quite amusing, but it was so helpful. I didn't have a glossary with a Clockwork Orange, but found that I didn't need one. Trainspotting definitely did. :)

    Laura: Agreed. I don't know why I like books that deal with drug addiction, especially because I've never touched the stuff. I think it's the sheer raw humanity and pain, the fact that these characters are so awful and yet you feel for them so much. Renton is a great character, but he actually only rates as my third favorite. It's Begbie first, then Sick Boy, then Renton.

  6. I know this is the wrong post to comment on for the subject I wish to talk about, but I'm feeling too lazy to go back to the other one. I've decided what two classics I wish to write a review on, but I might have trouble posting them this month. But I thought I'd tell them what they are just in case you've read them: The Picture of Dorian Grey and then I'm pretty sure you've read Frankenstein right?

  7. Wooo one of my reviews is being passed around the blogger grapevine! You had told me that Gabe so I'll let you off the hook!

    I agree with everything you wrote above, Welsh is one of my favourite authors and I've read all of his work except "Reheated Cabbage" and loved all of them to bits, but Trainspotting and Porno are definitely my favourites! Also, a prequel is due out next year, I think it's called 'Skagboys'.

    @Ellie, his new(ish) book Porno actually deals a bit with the poshing up of Leith and how that affects the characters, particularly Spud, and also the merging of Leith and Edinburgh years earlier. It's really interesting actually, I look forward to travelling next year and hopefully getting out that way

  8. Nonners: I love Frankenstein; such a great book. I got halfway through Dorian Grey before I gave up, but I'm going back to it this year. I feel like I didn't give it much of a chance. I'm going to leave the linkies up until the end of the year, so don't worry if you can't post them in the month that you read them in.

    Kayleigh: Congrats! Although, I'm not really surprised considering your reviews are always really thoughtful and fun to read.

    I just heard about the prequel today and meant to mention it in my post and then it completely slipped my mind. I'm thinking of giving myself an Irvine Welsh challenge next year. He has so many books that I haven't read, but I don't have enough months to read them in left in 2011.

  9. Trainspotting blew my mind when I first read it though I did struggle with the dialect. Porno is on my ever-growing tbr pile. Great post.

  10. CHE: Thanks! I keep forgetting to officially put Porno on my TBR page, but it's there in my head. I started to read it this past semester but I'm afraid that life kind of got in the way so I had to put it down. From what I read there wasn't as much dialect, although I only got about fifty pages in, so there could be more later on.

  11. I see you nearly went with Anthony Burgess! I almost went with Anthony Burgess too - and I did mention him on this week's post as a possibility. I'm interested to see what you have coming up later in the month.

    I haven't read (or heard of) Welsh, but based on your post I believe I will need to rectify that soon.

    I decided to go with an author not too dissimilar from Burgess but a bit less accessible and more personally interesting, in my opinion. Hard to compare the books themselves, as Burgess and my mystery author both have brilliant works and tackle interesting topics in bizarre ways. Maybe I should have picked both.

  12. You know, I'm going to admit that I've never read Burroughs. I'm sort of ashamed to say it, actually. I might have to add a book or two of his to my TBR.

    I've only read A Clockwork Orange, but I'm probably going to challenge myself towards the end of this year to read at least two more of his novels. I rave about him enough that it's probably a good idea.

    Welsh comes highly recommended. Going from what I've seen on your blog, I think you'd enjoy him.

  13. I'm linking to this on a post of mine about books set in Scotland.