Skagboys by Irvine Welsh – Book Review

Kurt Vonnegut said that you should always start a story as late as possible, something which Irvine Welsh did with his first book Trainspotting, which has meant that he could revisit the story 20 later years for this prequel. 

Skagboys follows the main characters from Trainspotting in the years building up to the original novel. It covers their descent into heroin and covers the hectic world of Edinburgh schemes in the 80s. I have read most of Irvine Welsh’s books and think this is right up there with the best of them. It encapsulates the hopelessness of addiction but does not moralise or try to offer up any lessons. 

The characters drawn from the poor areas of Leith all jump of the page and come across as fully rounded individuals, partly due to the phonetic spelling Welsh uses for their speech, which takes a bit of picking up but gives the characters a strong voice. The middle class characters tend not to be as well rounded and they feel a little bit two dimensional compared to the vividness of the “schemies”. 

I found that the book really sprang to life whenever Begby was involved. He is a violent psychopath but at the same time has a kind of insane logic to his behaviour that makes him almost likeable. I found that the scenes he was involved in really light up the book and would personally love to see a novel dedicated just to him. 

The book was reviewed on Newsnight Review just before its release and I remember one of the people on there saying that this book was not as relevant as Trainspotting because society has moved on since the time this book is set in. The story covers disaffected youths, thrown on the scrap heap by the Tory government, a familiar story to anyone who has seen a news report about youth unemployment. 

If you wanted to get an understanding of the mentality of the kids rioting in London last summer, this book would give you a fair insight. I am giving this book a five star rating, it might not quite reach the heights of Trainspotting but over the 500+ pages it consistently entertains and provides a great background to the characters depicted in Trainspotting. The morality of the people in the book is abhorrent at times but I think that is part of the joy of Irvine Welsh’s writing, he can find the humanity in the most horrible human beings. A great read.

5 out of 5

Here are some links to the paperback and the kindle versions:


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