Irvine Welsh, a tough but clairvoyant author
Known for Trainspotting and his subsequent novels on the same drug-addicted and dead-broke characters from the Leith district of Edinburgh, Scotland, Irvine Welsh is the author of a work of hard-hitting orality that takes a lucid look at our relationship with the world.
Like his mythical characters Trent and Renton, Irvine Welsh was hooked on heroin in the early 1980s, in a Scotland paralyzed by the economic crisis. But this writer, born to a family of modest means, who dropped out of school at 16 (only to return in adulthood and earn an MBA), was also a punk singer before gaining literary success and then settling in the United States. Today he resides in Florida, where he continues to bring Trainspotting’s characters to life in his novels and to create a hard-hitting saga of social dissolution, one novel after another.
The ballet of the misfits
His books are brutal, like those of Brett Easton Ellis. But they are also tender and perspicacious. Since the feature film directed by Danny Boyle in 1996 based on his first best-selling novel, Irvine Welsh has become the symbol of a Western society losing its meaning in the face of unbridled capitalism. “We are all marginal because of our economic system,” he told Metro News World in 2019.
Misfits are his favourite theme. Because they feel excluded, the sympathetic “losers” of Trainspotting fall victim to drugs and topple into the abyss. When Welsh reintroduces them in Porno (2002), Skagboys (2012), and The Blade Artist (2016) or in Dead Men’s Trousers (2018), they have barely changed and are pursuing their lost youth. In other novels, like Glu (2001) or The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006), he creates other characters who resemble them, decadent males in search of utopia in stupor, drugs and music.
The textures of a language
Irvine Welsh’s writing is rhythmic and swirling. But above all, it embodies the textures of the Edinburgh vernacular and celebrates the Scottish linguistic difference.
Reproducing the language of the streets with fierce accuracy, he even varies the punctuation for each character, seeking to make their voices and inflections heard. It’s not surprising that film and theatre quickly appropriated his texts. This extends to Québec where, in a theatrical adaptation of Trainspotting by Wajdi Mouawad, the Scottish popular language acquired the colorations of Québec French without difficulty.
In three clicks
Twenty years after the adaptation of Trainspotting was released on the big screen, the Toronto International Film Festival asked Irvine Welsh to comment on the original film and the feature film Trainspotting 2, which appeared in 2018.
This interview with France 24 English dives into Irvine Welsh’s work and questions him about his cult characters.
In 2013, the Québec director Marie-Hélène Gendreau staged a theatrical adaptation of Trainspotting by dramatist Wajdi Mouawad, with actor Lucien Ratio in the role of Renton (video in French).