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.

David Marx


4 responses to “Skagboys

  1. Sean-Paul Thomas

    Hi David,

    I just read your websites review of Skagboys by Irvine Welsh, who is one
    of my favorite authors.

    My name’s Sean-Paul Thomas and I’m a relatively new author from
    Edinburgh who is just trying to establish myself right now. I have one
    book published so far, while my other books are all self published.

    I’ve written a new book, a kind of dark, edgy, black comedy satire, set
    in an Edinburgh Cafe during next years referendum in Scotland. Where a
    lot of weird, wonderful and quirky characters come and go throughout
    the day, sharing stories from their crazy screwed up lives. While some
    just want to voice their radical opinions on Scottish Independence.

    The book was released on December 17th and I was wondering if you would
    have time in your busy schedule to review or spotlight the novel at
    some point over the next few months.

    It’s a 50/50 with the Scots/English dialect. So I think it might appeal
    more to fans of Irvine Welsh and other Scottish authors who use Scots
    dialect in their writing. Right now I’m just trying to find a select
    target audience for my work and get it out there.

    Here is a brief Synopsis.

    ‘WARNING ‘May contain crude Scots dialect’

    Did ye ken that it’s referendum day in Scotland oan the 18th of
    September 2014?

    It’s also new ‘Pro UK Union’ chef, Richard’s, first day uv work at the
    Edinburgh auld town cafe. Where tae his great displeasure, he’s already
    been left oan his tod tae run the evening back shift by his sexist,
    womanising boss Brian, wi only the pretty and fiery, Pro ‘Scottish
    independence’ student waitress Toni, tae assist.

    Throughoot the shift Toni and Richard are visited by many weird, wacky
    and wonderfully humorous customers. Some uv whaim are jist in fur a wee
    banterous blether, sharing their radical political opinions wi any
    bampot whae’ll listen a damn, efter voting on Scotland’s historical day.

    Other customers though jist dinnae give a flying hoot aboot the
    Independence malarkey and jist want tae huv a quiet bite while sharing
    their ain crazy, freaky stories from their screwed up lives.

    So fae young teens discussing the extreme lengths some boys will go tae
    in order tae get their sexual kicks tae Non Educated Delinquents
    discussing a new Scotland efter Independence. Including the rebuilding
    of Hadrian’s wall, strict border controls and new anti English road
    layouts. Wi aw new Gaelic road signs tae make it even harder and more
    frustratingly annoying fur any English tourist tae find their way
    aboot. Arguments and opinions begin tae get more and more heated and
    radical the closer the referendum results are tae being announced.

    There is also the blossoming relationship between the handsome Chef
    Richard and cute waitress Toni to contend wi tae, when they’re both no
    up in each others faces, defending their ain beliefs and political

    So if ye enjoy yur average run uv the mill stories like ye enjoy a nice
    wee safe cup uv coffee likes, wi Milk and jist the wan sugar ken. Noo
    is the time tae take it completely bitter black… wi jist a wee pinch
    uv salt fur gid measure, ken whit ah mean.

    Warning ‘May contain crude Scots dialect’

    If you would like to read the book or even just check out some sample
    chapters, then I can send you a copy in any file format you desire.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my e-mail and I hope to hear from
    you again soon, even if just to say no thanks.

    Cheers and kind regards

    Sean-Paul Thomas

    • Hi Sean,
      Thanks for your message – good to hear from you.
      Your book sounds interesting, I’d be well up for reading/reviewing it.
      Do you have actual hard copies?
      By the way, my email address is;
      Look forward to hearing from you.
      All best,

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