Irvine Welsh has a big year ahead – feature films of his books Ecstacy (1996) and Filth (1998) will soon ignite the silver screen – and this month, Skagboys, the Scotsman’s long-awaited prequel to 1993’s era-defining Trainspotting, swaggers into bookstores.
Trainspotting’s characters have cameoed in most of Welsh’s subsequent novels, notably 2002’s Porno, a ‘sequel’ that picked up ten years later with Renton, Sick Boy and Spud co-financing a stick flick in Amsterdam, still on the run from the psychopathic Begbie.
Talk of a prequel has been rattling around for a decade. Welsh himself told Time Out in 2010: “Some novels leap out of ye – that's Trainspotting. Other books I've wanted to write so bad ah've wrenched ‘em up from within, ideas thit kick aroond ma subconscious fa a while befir emergin fully realised – that's Skag Boys.”
Skagboys plunges us back into the protagonist’s private universes – the grim, profane and demented domestic squalor of arse-end Edinburgh. Our heroes/ zeroes are young, fit, fast-witted and up-for-it as they traverse rites of passage like uni, travel, girls and work.
But heroin’s haze soon obliterates all that. After fumbling first fixes, the boys descend full-scale into the maelstrom of junkiedom. Trust, sense and morality are trampled in the endless quest for more, more, more. Each turn of the page fans the pungency of their rot.
Welsh’s sharply punctuated prose bubbles up in the swampy brogue of the Scots, and once it clicks in, it’s addictive, harrowing and hilarious. He’s typically crafty with his use of fonts too – Renton’s rehab journal is handwritten and, as heroin’s hold tightens on the whole town, the ‘Notes on an Epidemic’ bulletins jump hypodermic-spiky from the page.
But it never comes at the cost of characterisation. Welsh loves these misery-magnets and he soundtracks their fall, flatline and quasi-resurrection with savage wit and the bravery of someone tying their 20-year-old self to the tracks one last (?) time for art.
Skagboys by Irvine Welsh is available May 12 from Random House, RRP$32.95