By Irvine Welsh
Jonathan Cape – £12.99
Rather like those demonstrative boogie poodles of yore, Status Quo, the writer Irvine Welsh stumbled upon his niche many, many years ago, and has since declined to move on. Where the Quo work within the dire musical parameters of twelve-bar repetition, Welsh works within a drug infested Edinburgh.
And both have absolutely nothing new to say (not that the Quo ever did mind).
The similarities don’t end there either, for back in the day, both band and author leapt forth from that of a working-class corroboration of unchained escapism. They were the ones to whom the kiddies turned for a bit of uncomplicated nourishment and diversion – teenage boys and young men especially. The Quo, for their loud, brash, council-house subject matter on such albums as Piledriver and Hello, and Welsh for his vapid, vein vindication in such intrepid novels as Trainspotting and The Acid House.
High on sex, skag and a literary invasion of the hyperactive blood stream, it’s easy to see why said books were a hoot. They were funny and fresh, inventive and idiosyncratic, regal and risqué; yet although parts of Skagboys may be funny and idiosyncratic, none of it is particularly fresh or inventive. Let lone regal or risqué – even the title is tired.
In fact, one doesn’t even need to read this book to know that it’s all about fashion, drug deals, shagging, jacking up, heroin and unemployment; fashion, drug deals, shagging, jacking up, heroin and unemployment; fashion, drug deals, shagging, jacking up, heroin and unemployment.
All signed, sealed and ultimately conveyed with one of the broadest Scottish accents this side of Billy Connolly.
On the one hand, such writing might be considered socially crucial, while on the other, a tad redundant. I’m going for the latter – even if there is a really tidy assortment of cracking one-liners: ‘’How the fuck did she faw for that shifty-looking spunkbag?,’’ ‘’the daughter has turned oot a right wee fuckin’ belter! Probably be a baboon-morphed bloated slag by the time she’s eighteen,’’ ‘’the old boy moves like an oil tanker in a cardigan,’’ ‘’ah get a sudden rush and a glow, then ma insides, body and brain, are like a fruit pastille, melting in a huge mooth,’’ ‘’The other yin looks like a shaved twat in Penthouse, crusted over wi fanny batter.’’
Skagboys might be riddled with colourful, caustic one-liners, but a great book it does not make. However, from a political perspective at least, it does occasionally veer towards having the potential to stand out as one Welsh’s most compelling and resolute.
It does after all kick off with The Miners Strike of 1984-5. Although one of the book’s strongest features is surely his commentary on the preposterous amount of continued bigotry between Scotland’s Catholics and Protestants. This wholeheartedly comes to light in ‘Joy Division: Still,’ where Welsh writes: ‘’Upset my hairy ersehole. It’s this shite that upsets me. The proddies and the papes; the lowlife rump ay losers, distilled fae the dregs ay European Christendom’s two most blood-simple white tribes. Sneering, rabid vermin who intuitively know they’re at the bottom ay the trash pile at the scabbiest end ay a bunch ay frozen rocks in the North Sea. Aw they can dae is think ay whae tae scapegoat for their shabby plight, and when the monster that was ma brother came along, it was a (Christian) God-sent opportunity fir them. The fact escaped them that Wee Davie was probably the nadir that only those sectarian spastics could ever have produced, because whatever pigeon-shit colours they drape around their slopin shoodirs, or the crappy one-note ballads of loyalty or rebellion they sing, they’re aw cut fae the same manky cloth ay noxious idiocy.’’
Were Irvine Welsh to focus on such a reflective, powerful stance for any duration of time, it would indeed, make for an inviting and much needed change. As is, his writing is becoming just a little too safe, too synonymous, too predictable.
Just like Status Quo.