Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Glue. This is a novel by Irvine Welsh from 2001 that introduced Juice Terry and some of the other characters who would team up with Sick Boy and his crew in Porno. While a legitimate criticism of Trainspotting and some of Welsh's other work might be how diffuse and unresolved it is, there is a very definite story here, centered entirely on four lifelong friends from the council schemes of Edinburgh. (This distinguishes them from Sick Boy, Renton and the Trainspotting gang, who are from Leith, although they all make cameos here, most memorably Spud.) Still, the elements of plot are secondary to mood and theme, as Welsh is interested in exploring the formation of the bonds between young men in a very specific cultural setting. He either knows this culture inside out, or he's real good at faking it. The usual hallmarks are here: the schemie slang, told in first person and rotated among the four main characters, and a profane but hilarious sensibility. But the scope of this book is epic, as it traces the relationships among these guys from before they were born into near middle age through a series of snapshots set against specific shining moments or movements in the larger culture. They gradually emerge as distinct and varied individuals very much shaped by their circumstances, but I'm not sure Welsh is attempting a sociological explanation of their particularized behavior. They seem to be less archetypical, and more genuine, than the Trainspotting crew. I don't know a lot about Welsh's professional biography, but this could represent his bid for legitimacy in the larger literary world. It's clear from the occasional third person omnipotent narrator style, used more often here than in most of his other stuff I've read, that he is a thoughtful and gifted writer, and not just someone transcribing stories he's heard in Scottish bars. There is real emotion and even tragedy in this story. It almost goes off the rails during the final sequence, when outside characters and perspective are introduced, but he pulls it back together with an emotional sucker punch when the (surviving) main characters reconvene at the end. Unfortunately, the arc of the story necessitates that one of the most likable and decent characters, Carl a/k/a N-SIGN, is shoved aside and turned into a plot device, while the also likable, but flawed, Juice Terry brings the story full circle with a near-maudlin (non) surprise/shot at redemption. Still, I like the way Welsh has created an interconnected world with these books, with characters popping up in different places and the past informing the present. I am almost reluctant to move on to something about other characters, like Filth, but he's such an entertaining writer that I'm sure I'm going to chase down all his stuff.

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