Book #17

The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

Jim Francis has finally found the perfect life – and is now unrecognisable, even to himself. A successful painter and sculptor, he lives quietly with his wife, Melanie, and their two young daughters, in an affluent beach town in California. Some say he’s a fake and a con man, while others see him as a genuine visionary.
But Francis has a very dark past, with another identity and a very different set of values. When he crosses the Atlantic to his native Scotland, for the funeral of a murdered son he barely knew, his old Edinburgh community expects him to take bloody revenge. But as he confronts his previous life, all those friends and enemies – and, most alarmingly, his former self – Francis seems to have other ideas.

BEGBIE, I canny believe it's really you. All those years of peevin, scrappin, and jail time, you land it nice in California with a gorgeous wife and kids, a rehabilitative job, and a massive hoose. The boy has changed. Until, of course, his son ends up pan breed and he has to come back to Embra for the funeral.

No one could write this but Welsh. Carving this new life for Franco, under the name of Jim Francis, he creates a stark contrast to the one we're used to, and takes us immediately out of our comfort zones. It doesn't feel right; his redemption is uncomfortable, and his mindset is totally foreign to the one we're used to. We've already seen Welsh set stories on American soil, but this is a life too clean and perfect for Saughton's repeat offender. The boy's done well to make this comfortable nest for himself, but Welsh soon has us wondering exactly how much of Francis Begbie is left in Jim Francis.

I spent a lot of time towards the beginning of the novel in utter conflict. Franco isny Franco, and it wasn't just me who noticed it - a number of characters comment on Begbie's transformation, expecting him to have returned to his hometown to wreak vengeance on his son's murderer. His calm admissions that he wasn't close to his son meant true disappointment in the character's faces; this mirrored my own. We were all itching for a scrap.

We haven't been allowed to see him transform into this Californian gent, but seeing the transgression as soon as he hits Scottish soil is nothing short of delectable. Whether it's the setting, the situation, the company, or all of these that impacts him is debatable, and irrelevant. He's back, but he's new and improved. His calm becomes terrifying, his new intelligence worrying, and where he would initially react immediately and aggressively to any confrontation, we see instead a cold calculation and a man set on viciously confusing those out to oppose him. This is Francis Begbie version 2, and trust me, you'd be much better off trying to jab version 1.

The most wonderful and important parts of The Blade Artist are the flashbacks to Begbie's younger life. We're finally allowed to understand and explore what's made him the way he is. Although his actions are extremely difficult to justify, his reasoning behind them is made clear, and we begin to understand this monster and his world of pain.

Welsh does here what he does best; relatable psychos, understandable yet shocking emotion, a fuck-tonne of glorious violence, and a couple of cameos from some of his best characters. This has been a real change of pace, though; a journey through love and destruction with the biggest character of all. I absolutely loved it.