‘Rattlesnakes’, the opening story in Irvine Welsh’s If You Liked School You’ll Love Work, his first collection since 1994’s The Acid House, is an extended dirty joke. Eugene, Scott and Madeline, three young Americans, are out in the desert after frying their brains at Nevada’s notorious Burning Man festival. Eugene is surreptitiously masturbating in their shared tent when a snake bites his penis. Eugene, who has lusted after Madeline for weeks, is desperate for her to suck the poison from his member, but she’s too scared of catching a disease. Scott offers to do it instead, but Eugene is reluctant, suddenly afraid that his friend is a closet homosexual. Realising he might die if he refuses, he gives in. Then the Mexicans show up.
No other literary author could get away with this sort of silly material. But when he’s operating at his best, Welsh’s narrative control is so expert that he can elevate anything, and ‘Rattlesnakes’ is scary, erotic and extremely funny. He performs a similar trick with the title story, which initially