Stuff I Love - Trainspotting
Ok I'm not going to spin you a line here. Like a lot of people my first contact with 'Trainspotting' by Irvine Welsh was actually via the film rather than the book.
And what a great film it is. Truth be told the day we went to see 'Trainspotting' at the pictures was an odd day. I can tell you the date even now. It was 13th March 1996 and I know this because it was the day of the Dunblane massacre. I'm not going to go into the gory details of what happened but needless to say it was pretty shocking. Although not personally affected it was the sort of day that stays with you forever.
Still we had booked to go to the cinema and so we went. I'll never know how much the impact of the film on me was influenced by that day.
I'm writing this having actually only ever seen the film once. Even so I can remember bits of it vividly. The combination of darkness, scabarous humour and tragedy is a mainstay of TV and films these days. But it wasn't so common in those days. There was also the episodic style that kept you interested. It helped that it had an amazing soundtrack as well. 'Lust for Life' by Iggy Pop; 'Perfect Day' by Lou Reed; and 'Born Slippy' by Underworld all feature in pivotal moments in the film. Subsequently these songs have been overplayed to an extent that I'm not sure I need to hear them ever again ('Lust for Life' features in the build up to Manchester United games for goodness sake!)
Anyway I was so impressed that I was drawn to the book. To be fair I was aware of the book, before the film came along, but for whatever reason had not taken the plunge to read it. Actually even after seeing the film it took me a while to decide to buy it. If you haven't got a copy look it up the next time you are in a library or bookshop. Open it at its first paragraph and try to understand it. Its all written in Scottish dialect!
Eventually though I stumped up the cash and took the book home. At first I really struggled until I had a moment of inspiration. Now it so happens that Mrs Windbag comes from quite close to Edinburgh (in fact she was born in that city). I imagined my father-in-law speaking as I read the words. Bingo! There was no stopping me as I devoured the book in a matter of days.
As much as I loved the film it has to be said that the book is even better. Its not really a novel as such. Its really a collection of short stories and fragments collected together. The cast of characters is much bigger. In fact the film has combined some characters into one person. The film has a much more obvious narrative to it as well. The book just flits from one episode to another. In some ways I like it for this very reason. After all in the real world there isn't really a neat narrative going on. Real life is all over the place and so is this book.
Of course in a book there is more room to expand the stories and also you get more of an insight into the characters. The sheer scariness of Begbie really comes across in the book for example.
In some ways this is a very similar book to 'Cider with Rosie'. Although 'Trainspotting' isn't directly autobiograhical it is made up in a similar way of fragments and short pieces with only a tenuous narrative. There's also a honesty about both books that shows life in all its glory and all its darkness.
In my opinion nothing that Irvine Welsh has written subsequently has matched 'Trainspotting'. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that every subsequent book has had a much more conventional narrative format. Still to even write one great book that influences thousands of people is an amazing achievement.