Mark Renton has it all: he's good-looking, young, with a pretty girlfriend and a place at university. But there's no room for him in the 1980s. Thatcher's government is destroying working-class communities across Britain, and the post-war certainties of full employment, educational opportunity and a welfare state are gone. When his family starts to fracture, Mark's life swings out of control and he succumbs to the defeatism which has taken hold in Edinburgh's grimmer areas. The way out is heroin.
It's no better for his friends. Spud Murphy is paid off from his job, Tommy Lawrence feels himself being sucked into a life of petty crime and violence - the worlds of the thieving Matty Connell and psychotic Franco Begbie. Only Sick Boy, the supreme manipulator of the opposite sex, seems to ride the current, scamming and hustling his way through it all.
Skagboys charts their journey from likely lads to young men addicted to the heroin which has flooded their disintegrating community.
A quick disclaimer: This review will be biased, fangirly, and completely subjective. If you are looking for an honest, impartial review of this book you probably won't find one here. Welsh is one of my favourite authors, and I am yet to criticise any of his work. I am a huge fan, and entirely of the opinion that the man is a genius.
Ten years ago, Welsh presented us with Trainspotting - a peek into the life of heroin users in Edinburgh. Then, once we had grown to love the boys and their depravities, he gave us Porno, the sequel, and told us what had become of them. Now, Skagboys is our insight into the lives of the boys before both of these books: a sneaky taste of where it all went wrong. Delicious.
Although Skagboys could be read as a standalone novel, the most exciting thing about the story (which is apparent in many other Welsh novels) is its relation to events and characters in the next two installments of the trilogy. Seeing where the characters have come from and knowing where they are going has a certain sense of both sagacity and voyeurism. I absolutely loved beginning downwards spirals with these characters, and becoming more knowledgeable and in love with them as the novel went on.
Once again, as with all Welsh novels, I was blown away by his characterisation skills. Every character was relatable and every character had an interesting back story to their behaviour. The way Welsh bounces characters off one another, and interlinks them into messy relationship trees is completely delectable. The group dynamic he weaves through the boys is completely genius, and entirely relatable. They betray each other, respect each other, and ultimately support each other through each obstacle in their own strange little ways.
Although politics is not my game, and I can't pretend to have long thought-out opinions on political matters, the commentary on Thatcherism did not quite escape me. The beginning of the novel plunges us into a miners riots, and shows us where the real power lay. He seems to accuse Thatcher of driving the public to addictions through despondency, whether it be alcohol, nicotine, or the far more potent heroin. As a result, she created a country of powerless, ailing zombies. This was quite a message, and definitely something to ponder.
My favourite aspect when reading Trainspotting was Welsh's varying narration styles, where he gave each new chapter to a different character. He did this here as well, and I find it's an excellent device for giving us a well-rounded view of the opinions and actions of everyone we meet. I particularly adore beginning a chapter and trying to work out whose story I'm following; Welsh helps with different prose styles and sly mentions of characters, behaviours, or events.
I really could not recommend this novel enough, particularly for a Welsh fan, or for someone who has read Trainspotting and/or Porno in the past. It's disgusting, fascinating and reveals more than you perhaps would like to know. Welsh's work really is incomparable, and I would urge anyone (except maybe my grandma) to give this, or any other of his novels, a good try. I loved every single page, and cannot wait for the next one.
11 / 50 books. 22% done!