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About this book

This book provides an introduction to the work of Irvine Welsh, placing his fiction in historical and theoretical context. It explores Welsh's biography, his impact on contemporary Scottish fiction and the cultural relevance of his work. Including a timeline of key dates, it also offers an overview of the critical reception his work has provoked

Table of Contents

Introduction

Timeline

Without Abstract
Robert A. Morace

1. Introduction: The Irvine Welsh Phenomenon

Abstract
‘The Power of Scotland’, a lengthy article in the 14 April 2002 Scotland on Sunday, listing and briefly describing the one hundred most powerful Scots, suggests a national confidence hardly imaginable just a decade earlier. Amidst all the bankers, business people, government officials, newspaper editors, radio and television directors and other influential living Scots are four writers: Alasdair Gray (#83), Liz Lochhead (#56), Irvine Welsh (#42) and J. K. Rowling (#9). ‘Once the enfant terrible of Scottish fiction, Welsh exploded on the literary scene in 1993 with Trainspotting. He has now returned to his native city after a period in exile, and has arguably influenced Scottish literature — and the perception of it — more than anyone else in the past decade’. To say that Welsh lived ‘in exile’ when in fact he had simply spent much of the previous seven or so years elsewhere, including Amsterdam, London, Chicago and Dublin, is understandable. However, this perhaps unwitting attempt to mythify Welsh by linking him indirectly to the greatest literary self-exiles of the twentieth century, the Irish writers James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, is also unfortunate in that it seems less a sign of Scotland’s newfound power and self-confidence than a subtle reminder of lingering self-doubt. The linkage is indeed doubly unfortunate because the more grandiose claim, concerning Welsh’s influence, is entirely true. Welsh and his work constitute a cultural ‘phenomenon’ of considerable sociological as well as literary interest, one in which the mythified Welsh plays an important but nonetheless secondary role.
Robert A. Morace

Major Works

2. Trainspotting: The First Day of the Irvine Welsh Festival

Abstract
‘Critics, prize-giving juries, and readers alike are hereby served notice: Trainspotting marks the arrival of a major new talent’, wrote Alan Chadwick in a brief but important review which appeared in the Herald on 31 July 1993. That was two weeks before the novel’s release date and a month before Welsh’s first appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival. More than hype, Chadwick’s announcement of Trainspotting’s and Welsh’s arrival sought to create a space for both novel and author within the more or less closed ranks of the literary establishment of gatekeepers (reviewers and prize juries) and in the literary marketplace as part of the category that has come to be known as ‘literary fiction’. Chadwick’s announcement also opened up a space for the kind of readers Trainspotting would attract, whose readings of the novel would be outside mainstream considerations and standards and whose response would help create the space within which Welsh’s reputation would develop and against which it would be measured. That audience was as specific as the young underclass Leithers who formed Welsh’s ideal audience and, as A. L. Kennedy later noted, the broader audience of her and Welsh’s generation of Scots (literary Scots, like Kennedy, the unread like many of Welsh’s characters, and the postliterate). Matters of class and generation are further complicated by region, nation (both within Britain and without), language and time, with readings of Trainspotting affected by the subsequent but for many readers intermediary forms of highly successful stage and screen versions.
Robert A. Morace

3. Trainspotting: The Film

Abstract
Concerning differences between novel and film, Welsh noted that ‘The novel is a bunch of voices shouting to be heard … you’re inside [the characters’] heads rather than just watching them on the screen’ (McGavin). Rather than comparing book and film, this chapter examines some of the cultural and critical voices shouting to be heard and therefore contributing to the cultural significance of arguably the most influential film of the 1990s and one of the most free-floating signifiers of the past decade. To do so requires one’s viewing the film the way the film views London: as a montage, or more specifically as a montage of cultural signifiers within the larger cultural consumerscape. Trainspotting’s success in so many forms over so short a time makes comprehending its enormous cultural impact especially challenging; it also makes it difficult to measure the extent to which the film version may be said to re-present or repackage Welsh’s novel: whether the one supplements, supersedes or supplants the other and suppresses or releases the novel’s multiple voices.
Robert A. Morace

4. The Acid House, Ecstasy and Filth

Abstract
Welsh’s second book, The Acid House, was well received upon publication, proving that Trainspotting was not a one-off and showing the author still ‘pushing the limit of his versatility’ (Birch), ‘experimenting with form and voice’ (Boddy), ‘mapping a linguistic and geographical domain either disregarded or disenfranchised’ (Maley, ‘Subversion’ 191). ‘How shockingly different is the Edinburgh and debatable land of Irvine Welsh in The Acid House’, Douglas Gifford noted in an omnibus review in which his enthusiastic comments on The Acid House immediately followed his remarks on Candia McWilliam’s novel Debatable Land (‘Lion’). The question raised in the Paul Reekie poem which serves as the collection’s epigraph, ‘Do you hope for more/than a better balance/Between fear and desire’, forms a recurring theme in the stories, and all the fiction through Filth, which follow. Part of what makes The Acid House so impressive a follow-up to Trainspotting is not only Welsh’s stylistic virtuosity and ventriloquism but his range of subjects and settings as he explores the balance between fear and desire. Clearly, as Hugh Barnes and Willy Maley point out, the Acid House stories concern ‘people who have been trapped’ (Barnes 31), ‘fringe figures, migrant and vagrant … [who] are not part of any mainstream movement’ (Maley, ‘Subversion’ 193). Welsh is not only interested in detailing their powerless states; he is also interested in how these trapped and marginalized figures exercise whatever limited power they have.
Robert A. Morace

5. Marabou Stork Nightmares

Abstract
This chapter examines the way in which a particular myth, that of the ‘hard man’, is depicted and deployed in Irvine Welsh’s 1995 novel, Marabou Stork Nightmares. The hard man is not, of course, an exclusively Scottish myth or social type. Ben Kingsley’s East London gangster Don Logan in Sexy Beast exudes just as much hard-man menace as Robert Carlyle’s Begbie in the film version of Trainspotting. Nonetheless, the hard man is such a characteristically Scottish figure as to constitute a myth in the sense that Ascherson uses the term in Stone Voices: ‘a historical narrative [or type] which is used to support wider assumptions about moral worth or national identity’ (185). Myth in this sense ‘refers to a set of self-evident truths which are not amenable to proof’ (McCrone 90) and constitutes ‘a psychic resource which can energize us for better or worse’ (Mantel 104). Its two strands — memory and imagination — intertwine to form the ‘tissue of fictions’ ‘by which individuals relate the personal shape of their lives, both retrospective and prospective, to the larger trajectory of the life of the community from which they draw their significance’ (Craig, Modern 10).
Robert A. Morace

6. Glue and Porno

Abstract
Glue is Welsh’s most expansive novel and also his most leisurely in terms of pace and development, especially after Filth’s relentless narrative onslaught. Described by its publisher as an ‘epic and ambitious novel about friendship’, Glue is also very much a mid-career, mid-life novel, written, Welsh said, with greater confidence than the earlier works (‘“Glue”’). Yet, he maintained, his writing style is ‘basically the same’ and he is ‘still a petulant brat’ (Linklater). In calling Glue ‘a return to form’, his publisher was in effect acknowledging the battering Welsh’s reputation had taken take since the publication of Ecstasy in 1996. Quite inadvertently, the publisher also called attention to the role form plays in this novel, one similar in certain respects to the structure of Welsh’s earlier fiction, but quite different too. There was the loose, asymmetrical structure of Trainspotting, the layered narrative of Marabou Stork Nightmares, the alternating and parallel narratives of The Acid House and Ecstasy, and the nearly non-stop monologue rush of Filth, which the block-form of the table of contents foreshadows; form following function, Filth is structured as a claustrophobic box. Glue is differently organized.
Robert A. Morace

Criticism and Contexts

7. Other Writings

Abstract
‘My attitude to writing is, fuck it, I’ll have a go’. Never having expected to write a book, let alone have one published, Welsh ‘never became too precious about the media [he] wrote in’ (Introduction, Acid screenplay viii). Where most ‘writers’ work within a fairly narrow range, with the different genres and media hierarchically arranged and with the most ‘literary’ writers also confining themselves the most narrowly, Welsh has been as promiscuous literarily as his characters are sexually. Welsh’s demystification of writing and the writer proves a complex signifier, however. It serves as the sign of the authenticity of Welsh’s voice (which transcends genre and media) and as the point on which youth culture (literate and postliterate) fixes a gaze more often directed towards visual culture. It also serves as a brand name, marketable, consumable, profitable, and as the (former) schemie’s way of making his presence known, his (representative) voice heard: an individual act within (initially even against) the consumer culture which nonetheless has wider social, political and economic implications. It is a way which has greatly benefited Welsh, of course, as well as those for whom he speaks and the actors, directors and others who have acted or adapted his words.
Robert A. Morace

8. Critical Reception

Abstract
The critical response to Irvine Welsh’s writing does more than establish the strengths and weaknesses of individual works and the progress of his career. It also registers the origin and development of the Irvine Welsh phenomenon.
Robert A. Morace
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