Skagboys by Irvine Welsh

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally part of the main manuscript of Trainspotting, Skagboys poignantly depicts the downward spiral of Renton, Sickboy and Spud into addiction.

Set against the political uproar of Thatcher’s iron rule in the 80’s, Welsh effortlessly builds up and constrasts the tension of this group of friends’ descent into addiction against the social surroundings in Edinburgh at that time with interspersed chapters labelled “Notes on an Epidemic”. These notes provide insight into the unemployment that was rife during the 80’s and subtly flag to the reader reasons as to why drug addiction and crime in deprived and, some would say, government neglected areas ended up being so prevalent.

I found these offshoots away from the main story startling. As in Trainspotting, Welsh writes the majority of Skagboys in Scottish English. If you don’t know what this is, here is a brief example:

“Ah jist chase it but, ah inform him. –Ye dinnae git addicted that wey. It’s barry, man, like nae other feelin oan earth.”

As a narrative technique it is powerful and ensures that the reader cannot help but read the novel in the dialect of the characters, which really brings the story to life. What particularly affected me was the “Notes on an Epidemic” not being written in Scottish English. The stark contrast between the slang dialogue used during the main text, against the British English used when Welsh is drawing our attention to the issues of wider society, grabs you, sobers you and is unforgettable. The reader is constantly being pulled out of the inner circle of friends and reminded that the story we are reading is not unique and could be focused on any number of groups of young people within Scotland during this time.

The characterisation within Skagboys is flawless. Your favourite characters are fully fleshed out and developed; you follow their descent into addiction and crime completely, feeling curiosity, followed by disgust, then pity. One of my favourite things about this novel is the fact I now have a deeper insight into these characters, particularly Sickboy the manipulative, charming ladies man and Renton, who begins this story as a promising University student.

If you enjoyed Trainspotting, you will adore this prequel. Though more harrowing and shocking in places and much longer, I think that Welsh has achieved the impossible and produced a prequel that betters the main text.

Review first published on and Goodreads, 27th March 2013.

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