Irvine Welsh’s first novel is indeed a controversial novel, but it is simultaneously touching, humourous and riveting. Trainspotting focusses on the often ignored stories of the working-class, heroin-addicted youth of Edinburgh. Protagonist Mark Renton is at the centre of the group of characters which forms the representation of this oppressed, hopeless and trapped cohort. They both abhor and adore the ‘mind-numbing and spirit-crushing’ drugs that allow them temporary refuge from the world they detest. These young characters have very little, apart from drugs, wit and sex. Not surprisingly, these are all focal points of the novel, as well as the uniquely brilliant and essential eye-dialect implemented by Welsh.
The first response of a reader who opens Trainspotting is to stare in confusion at the apparently foreign language in which it is written. We then tend to focus on the copious amounts of swear words liberally spread across the page, so incongruous in a typical literary masterpiece. The language in Trainspotting can be alienating at first, but we soon get used to it and appreciate it as an exhilarating mode of communication which is poetic in its intricacies. It is as foreign to many readers as the sordid world which Welsh aims to present to the reader.
As well as the vernacular, the narrative voice is the other potent tool in Trainspotting’s armoury that solidifies its success. The calculated manipulation of perspective from story to story allows the reader an insight into the characters which is exceptional: it allows us close enough to get into their heads, but also far enough away to show their self-delusion. We, as readers, have to adapt to each character’s individual syntax and vocabulary; the language, in this novel, is as important as the characters, setting, or plot in the telling of the story and its messages.
Trainspotting is brutal in its bluntness; it is humourous in its sarcasm; outrageous in its wit; terrifying in its portrayal of drug addiction; masterful in its language and voice. It is not for the faint-hearted or easily-offended. For those that can handle its potency, it can offer an entertaining but horrifyingly realistic insight into the terrors of drug abuse and the depressing isolation of the working class.