Right, so there’s Trainspotting the 1996 film. And then there’s also just trainspotting, where people stare at trains.
Not that drug addiction is a competition. But this fast-paced, expletive-laden novel certainly did put its author on the map.
Thoughts on Trainspotting (the 1993 Welsh novel)
Welsh’s novel was far from the first book to deal with a topic like heroin. Hubert Selby Jr.’s Requiem for a Dream (1978) dipped its toe into this unholy pond a while back.
Selby Jr.’s work is set in ’70s New York. Trainspotting is in ’80s Edinburgh.
In the world of the book, that means the punk movement is just gone and an explosive dance scene is in action. The book is set over seven sections, if you’ve seen the film you’ll know what plays out.
As most people will have seen the film over reading the book.
Heck, it took us until 2022 to fully read it. We’re not saying that’s a problem. This just happens to be a landmark film where many people won’t have considered reading the book first.
It’s the same way Stephen King’s brilliance plays out within Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982). Or The Shining (1977). You may not have read the books, but you’ve seen the films!
Trainspotting as a book has faded in comparison to its film adaptation. We could say the same for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
Ken Kesey’s work is remarkable, but the film overshadows it. The same for Trainspotting.
Yet Welsh’s novel is a searing work. It’s difficult to comprehend as it’s written phonetically, in strong Scottish prose. It’s like deciphering A Clockwork Orange (1962), you will need to take time to adjust to the Scottish way of things.
But when you do put the effort in, it pays off.
Begbie is there. Drugs. Heroin. There’s mayhem and wit from the book’s anti-hero of sorts, Mark Renton as he churns out homespun philosophising like there’s no tomorrow.
“He emphasised basic truths: you are not dying yet, you have to live your life until you are. Underpinning them was the belief that the grim reality of impending death can be talked away by trying to invest in the present reality of life. I didn’t believe that at the time, but now I do. By definition, you have to live until you die. Better to make that life as complete and enjoyable an experience as possible, in case death is shite, which I suspect it will be.”
And it is a book about youth. About how, when you’re in your early 20s, time is pointless and you turf a lot of it away on pointless nonsense.
With Trainspotting, there’s a burning sense of fury here for misspent years in the name of hedonism.
That’s what makes it a riveting read. Alongside its ability to make you want to steer well clear of heroin forever more.
The Hedonistic Joys of Trainspotting’s 1996 Film Adaptation
In 1996, British cinema kickstarted a new era with the arrival of Danny Boyle’s instant classic.
Starring Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, and Kelly Macdonald, Trainspotting the film met with shock, controversy, and rave reviews.
It remains a riveting film. Ultra-fast paced and an ode to youthful hedonism. If you’ve not watched it, do so as it’s an almighty experience.
The heroin taking isn’t quite as startling as it was in 1996.
Especially after audiences enjoyed the likes of Breaking Bad from 2008-2013, a series that vividly introduced us to the horrors of meth.
But as a character study its phenomenal. Especially the focus on Begbie, with Robert Carlyle delivering an astonishing performance.
Welsh wrote a 2002 sequel called Porno, which is often republished as T2 Trainspotting after the 2017 film adaptation.
The original cast all returned for the sequel and its a fine accompaniment to the first film.
It deals with ageing and the loss of youth, with middle-age creeping in leaving the characters to wonder where the years went.
Very funny in places, very moving in others, it delivered the goods!
Also, rumour has it, Robert Carlyle and Danny Boyle are set to do a series around the Begbie character. Which would be fantabulous! He’s everyone’s favourite unhinged psychopath.
May the Trainspotting legacy continue for years to come!