Skagboys by Irvine Welsh - review by Anthony Cummins

Anthony Cummins

Off the Rails



Jonathan Cape 548pp £12.99

Anyone for a violent, frequently vile sex-and-drugs romp through Thatcher’s Scotland amid the rise of HIV? Go on, say aye. Skagboys is a prequel to Trainspotting. The latter’s main character, Mark Renton, wondered if he became a heroin addict and full-time benefit cheat because the football team he supports stank in the Eighties. The opening to Skagboys reveals that the Eighties were indeed to blame, but it was nothing to do with what Renton and his buddies – psycho Begbie, half-Italian pimp Sick Boy and cat-loving loser Spud – call ‘fitba’. No, it turns out Renton was a victim of police brutality during the miners’ strike, having travelled down south with his dad to picket at what turned into the Battle of Orgreave. At the time – it was 1984 – he was studying for a degree and looking forward to an InterRail trip. He’d never touched heroin. But not long after he and his mates got battered, he shot up for the first time, nursing a bruised back. ‘Aw the sharp edges in the world have blurred and smoothed’, he tells us. ‘Ma stiff and jagged spine is now like a bendy piece ay rubber. A polis baton would bounce right oaf it, smashing the cunt right back in the chops.’

Brazen ain’t the word: not once did Trainspotting mention Orgreave. As a writer, Irvine Welsh is synonymous with urban deprivation, so there’s something admirably canny about his decision to reframe his twenty-year-old greatest hit this way, now that on-yer-bike Toryism reigns once more. But if Skagboys insists Thatcher transformed the

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