BY ANDREW MOODY
Iconic Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, who once referred to himself as so famous and wealthy he was essentially “upper class”, called the anti-Semite psychopath (and potential UK Labour prime minister) Jeremy Corbyn “as the best of a bad bunch” in August 2017, shortly after the hung parliament.
One of the most influential writers of the past twenty years, Welsh began life as the son of a waitress living in poverty in Leith and then the housing estates of Muirhouse, who experimented with heroin and once played in a London Punk band called Public Lice. Arrested on numerous occasions, he lived the life of the dirty, junkie rebel artist. It wasn’t until he submitted stories to Rebel Inc and other underground, literary zines that he got enough credibility for a publishing deal for Trainspotting in 1993 (longlisted for the Booker Prize) that became one of the most popular British films of the 90s, turning him into a rockstar novelist.
With his trademark violence, anti social plots and characters, explicit, downbeat sex, hard drugs and (hard to read) Scottish dialectic, I suppose it’s fair to call Welsh an auteur, but also one of the most unpleasant and nihilistic novelists I’ve ever encountered. The Socialist ethic is strong from the start of his debut novel (and ongoing mythology covering ten further books) of junkies and psychopaths. As Renton rages: “Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting on a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.” In the 1990s this was a hip, rebel yell. Now it just seems degenerate, lazy and immoral.
His tenth novel, published in 2016, The Blade Artist – a continuation of his violent socialist, atheistic mythology – concerns a reformed convict Francis Begbie living as a successful artist in California under an assumed name, married with two daughters. His “art” concerns the carving up of celebrity mannequin heads with a selection of sharp knives, some kind of comment on the grim character of modern celebrity. This gives him the outlet he needs for the psychopathy he has managed to keep under control in America. Having to return to Edinburgh for a funeral, the now reflective and reformed Begbie (he reads A Clockwork Orange on a Kindle to pass the time) gets roped back into his old schemie mates. By the end, he has tortured at least three men to death. “(Begbie) flashes a radiant smile, holding up a nail gun, procured from Tyrone’s basement, and his prisoner can feel the extent of his restraints. His head movement is minimal as there are two knives stapled by their handles to the wooden block under his chin, on either side of his neck, their sharp edges facing inwards to his flesh. Then Tyrone sees that Begbie has something in the flat of his hand. It is attached by a length of twine to one of the chandeliers on the ceiling. Begbie holds it suspended in front of David Power’s face: a small 5lb lead barbell, taken from downstairs. — This is wee, but it’s aw aboot speed. Mind you, ah modifed it a bit. Franco shows him the fattest part, where the weight appears to have cut-up shards of razor blade soldered onto it. He lets it dangle at rest an inch in front of Power’s face. The stark blackness of the cast iron and its glinting razors fascinate and terrify the captive gangster. — That’s the thing aboot bein an artist, ye get . . . creative.”
However, like in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (note the nail gun in the previous quoted sequence) Welsh is so in love with his protagonist that his new acceptance of homosexuals, his gentle relationship with his wife and children and even an entirely silly meeting with Mark Renton on a flight to LA (he stole £16, 000 from him in the first book) where Begbie calmly forgives him, seems to imply that psychopathy is a social condition based on poverty and not innate evil.
This is the Aesthetic of Socialist torture: we deserve a decent life whatever crimes we’ve committed but it doesn’t matter what we do to our rich, Conservative enemies.
One of the iconic figures of New Labour along with the Gallagher brothers, Welsh has a new novel out called Dead Man’s Trousers, where one of his degenerate, ex junkie, psycho characters will die. You can read it if you want, but I’ve had enough of these morally questionable novels and now see Irvine Welsh as the UK equivalent to the deeply unpleasant Ellis. Incidentally, they are apparently close friends.
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @VoguishFiction