I loved this book. Immensely. It was a little difficult to get into, occasionally confusing, but these effects only contributed to the overall theme of the novel. Honestly, if you want a straightforward, easy-to-read plot, well, it’s probably best if you look elsewhere. If you enjoy confusing tales told in incremental insights, extended introspective insight, and a book that really manages to capture a very real sense of verisimilitude, then this book is for you.
Obviously, the content (the lives of heroin junkies living in Edinburgh) won’t appeal to a lot of people; and indeed, it’s a book that, while it can appeal to the “outside” crowd (or, the punters, as Rent Boy would say), it is a meaningful and hilarious account for those with experience in the drug scene. In this way, it really is transcendental, in that it realistically encompasses the experience of the middle-class, of average (sometimes above average) intelligence drug user.
A lot of reviews have criticised the book for portraying heroin use in a glamourised, heroin chic manner, but I don’t think that it does. I think that it very accurately, and certainly very vividly, represents how the user feels at the time; it’s hell, but, shit they’re enjoying ever second of it, in a perverse manner. And it’s not as though there aren’t depictions of the hellish periods of heroin-withdrawal, and even the horrific things that happen as a result (an infant’s sudden death, for example). If they appear glossed-over, it’s the natural product of being portrayed from the hazy, warped perspective of drug-users, who are generally in a state of intoxication throughout the novel.
So, that’s content covered. Let’s take a look at style. First off, the language: it’s highly, highly offensive. Especially the parts told from Begbie’s perspective, where the use of the word c**t is less an expletive and more an article of speech. Expletives, racial slurs and sexist remarks abound, but it’s not in a gratuitous context, really; it’s simply the book representing the characters as they are, accurately capturing their patterns of speech. Also the use of basically transliterative/phonetic spelling is a bit confusing at first, but once you get used to reading “tae” as ‘to’, “ah” as ‘I’, etc., it really adds to the feel of the book, to the point that it really conveys the Edinburgh accent when you’re reading.
Free use of the word ‘fuck’ aside, the style is often disjointed and confusing, with sections of the book suddenly skipping between characters, and it’s often difficult to distinguish precisely whose perspective has just been introduced. Sometimes the style of speech is a giveaway, other times you have to wait until someone addresses the character to know whom it is that you’re dealing with. But again, this almost-haphazard style lends the novel it’s pace and context, with the fast-moving, chaotic nature of the lives that it depicts.
I could go on forever about this involving, and surprisingly complex (yet vastly entertaining), novel, but I’ll finish before I write one of my own. 10/10 overall.