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lip lit: Skagboys

Skagboys is the latest offering from Irvine Welsh, who burst onto the literary scene with the notorious Trainspotting (1993). Skagboys revisits the characters of Trainspotting, trailing them on a manic journey into the Edinburgh’s drug scene. Welsh describes it as a “why” book, investigating the characters, relationships and the broader society that the characters inhabit. It is an erratic and difficult novel, but it has been met with considerable praise since its publication in 2012.

Like Trainspotting, Skagboys is written in a strong Scottish dialect. There is no glossary. There’s no central point of view. There’s no discernible plot, beyond a sprawling attempt to explain how the main characters of Trainspotting (namely Mark Renton and Sick Boy) came to be heroin addicts in the Scotland of Maggie Thatcher. In an interview, Welsh said of the social setting that drove the young men to dabble in drugs ‘when there’s no employment and education and opportunities, it’s almost like drugs win by default. There is, literally, nothing else.’ This is by no means a book one takes on lightly.

The confusing form the novel takes obviously echoes the disjointed and jarring world of the young men that fill it. Chapters jump perspectives without signposting whose story we’re experiencing. One gets the sense from this lack of narrative clarity, that while it is their story of drug addiction, it broadly speaks of a generation that lost themselves. Welsh made it clear that Skagboys grew from original Trainspotting material, and it does at times feel like a work born from many small parts, rather than a cohesive story. It is certainly a novel for Welsh’s fanboys/girls, closed off from the uninitiated.

Principle narrator is Mark Renton, an intellectual lad who looks down his nose at heroin users. He is at university, and has a gorgeous girlfriend, Fiona. Beneath the cocky, Schopenhauer-quoting exterior, is a troubled soul. The novel explores the complexities of his family – the death of his severely disabled brother, his relationship with his father, and so on, as we learn how he becomes a junkie.  Perhaps the most poignant parts of the novel come in the form of Renton’s rehab diary excerpts, where he speaks with a tragic honesty. ‘It’s the process review group that reminds me of why I take drugs. We’re meant tae be looking at how we interact with each other here in the centre, but it generally descends into shouting matches and  name-calling, inevitably “resolved” by insincere hugs instigated by Tom or Amelia.’

The last line of the prologue sets the tone for the course of the novel. Mark and his father have just clashed with police in a violent union protest, a turning point in British history. As Mark stands on an overpass, watching the passing cars and lorries he laments ‘Ah’m thinkin that we’ve lost, and there’s bleak times ahead, and ah’m wonderin: what the fuck am ah gaunny dae wi the rest ay ma life?’

Skagboys is published by Jonathan Cape, London, an imprint of Random House.

2 thoughts on “lip lit: Skagboys

  1. Hi Amy,

    I just read your website review of Skagboys by Irvine Welsh, who is one of my favorite authors.

    My name’s Sean-Paul Thomas and I’m a relatively new author from
    Edinburgh who is just trying to establish myself right now. I have one book published so far, while my other books are all self published.

    I’ve written a new book, a kind of dark, edgy, black comedy satire, set in an Edinburgh Cafe during next years referendum in Scotland. Where a lot of weird, wonderful and quirky characters come and go throughout the day, sharing stories from their crazy screwed up lives. While some just want to voice their radical opinions on Scottish Independence.

    The book was released on December 17th and I was wondering if you would have time in your busy schedule to review or spotlight the novel at some point over the next few months.

    It’s a 50/50 with the Scots/English dialect. So I think it might appeal more to fans of Irvine Welsh and other Scottish authors who use Scots dialect in their writing. Right now I’m just trying to find a select target audience for my work and get it out there.

    Here is a brief Synopsis.

    ‘WARNING ‘May contain crude Scots dialect’

    Did ye ken that it’s referendum day in Scotland oan the 18th of
    September 2014?

    It’s also new ‘Pro UK Union’ chef, Richard’s, first day uv work at the Edinburgh auld town cafe. Where tae his great displeasure, he’s already been left oan his tod tae run the evening back shift by his sexist, womanising boss Brian, wi only the pretty and fiery, Pro ‘Scottish independence’ student waitress Toni, tae assist.

    Throughoot the shift Toni and Richard are visited by many weird, wacky and wonderfully humorous customers. Some uv whaim are jist in fur a wee banterous blether, sharing their radical political opinions wi any bampot whae’ll listen a damn, efter voting on Scotland’s historical day.

    Other customers though jist dinnae give a flying hoot aboot the
    Independence malarkey and jist want tae huv a quiet bite while sharing their ain crazy, freaky stories from their screwed up lives.

    So fae young teens discussing the extreme lengths some boys will go tae in order tae get their sexual kicks tae Non Educated Delinquents
    discussing a new Scotland efter Independence. Including the rebuilding of Hadrian’s wall, strict border controls and new anti English road layouts. Wi aw new Gaelic road signs tae make it even harder and more frustratingly annoying fur any English tourist tae find their way aboot. Arguments and opinions begin tae get more and more heated and radical the closer the referendum results are tae being announced.

    There is also the blossoming relationship between the handsome Chef
    Richard and cute waitress Toni to contend wi tae, when they’re both no up in each others faces, defending their ain beliefs and political

    So if ye enjoy yur average run uv the mill stories like ye enjoy a nice wee safe cup uv coffee likes, wi Milk and jist the wan sugar ken. Noo is the time tae take it completely bitter black… wi jist a wee pinch uv salt fur gid measure, ken whit ah mean.

    Warning ‘May contain crude Scots dialect’

    If you would like to read the book or even just check out some sample
    chapters, then I can send you a copy in any file format you desire.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my e-mail and I hope to hear from
    you again soon, even if just to say no thanks.

    Cheers and kind regards

    Sean-Paul Thomas

    • Hi Sean-Paul,

      If you’d like Lip to review your novel, the best thing would be to email our Literature and Books Editor, Jess Alice with more details – her email is


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