"Thir just ordinary boys wha've drugged themselves intae nothingness tae avoid the shame ay daein nothing."
BUT. I've discovered that I've kind of forgotten everything about both Porno and Trainspotting (apart from, I guess, the characters, cause I seemed to pick up on their basic character traits pretty instantly) and that includes just how bloody depressing they are, or at least Trainspotting is (I seem to remember Porno being slightly cheerier/less heroin-y). I'm going to have to say that Skagboys blows the other two out of the water as far as dreariness is concerned, and there was definitely an element of 'I'm so not in the right mood to read this book' basically the whole way through it. Of course I could have left it for a little while, but did you not get the bit where I'm excited because I got to be ahead of the crowd for once? Exactly.
So, yeah, Skagboys is no cakewalk (can you imagine how awesome an actual cakewalk would be? Like, spectacular!) and nor is it supposed to be- these kids have kind of terrible lives, very few prospects (with one notable exception) and they live in Scotland, for fucks sake! (I'm so sorry, Scottish people. Really. Just bear with me). Their turning to drugs is terrible, and awful, and so depressing, but also, it feels like, it's sort of the only thing they can do- it's difficult to see what else is out there for them, and their addictions sort of feel justified. There but for the grace of God go I, is what I say... (actually, I've literally never said that before. But that doesn't make it untrue.)
I think it's tempting to think of Skagboys as being kind of an unnecessary book in the 'Trainspotting canon', if you will, and as just capitalising on the success of the other books. I immensely disagree with this, and, in fact, I feel like this is the perfect time for this book to be published- I think that, looking at the political situation in this country (and Scotland, obviously) right now, it's not massively different from the climate that Thatcher created in the 1980s, when this book is set. The conditions are so similar that there's a sense in which, not only does this book kind of capture social history (to a certain extent), but it also kind of serves as a stark warning that the same thing could happen again, any time now, because the prospects for young people, and in fact, just people in general, have been decreasing rapidly since the current government came into office. I wasn't kidding when I said there but for the grace of God go I...
Anyway! Let's ignore the fact that, if I lived in Scotland and had loads of unemployed friends I'd maybe be a heroin addict (I totally wouldn't because I'm not an idiot. But still, let's be grateful that my friends have jobs) and shall we talk about the book? Let's do that, let's!
So. There is, of course, the usual cast of (sometimes) loveable losers, aka Rent Boy, Sick Boy, Spud (I LOVE Spud!) Begbie, and some other guys that you may remember from Trainspotting or Porno, but which I do not. And, to be honest, their lives aren't fabulous- they have unsteady employment, sex addictions, dying mothers, dying brothers... And, of course, they still live in Scotland (Sorry! Again!). This living in Scotland is relevant though, because there's still the Scottish dialect which I find alternately gritty and realistic, and then annoying and irrelevant. Because, like, do you think in an accent? Because I'm pretty sure I don't, and yet, just to be all different, Welsh has most of his characters thinking in Scottish. I understand that this is a kind of trademark thing for him to do, but also... it hurts my brain, man! Please stop doing that! Or at least just do it in dialogue, yeah?
Anyway... The story. There are many stories and they all interlink, and they're mostly very gritty and depressing and some are just downright depraved (you don't want to know. Do you want to know? Let's just say... pimping out a teenager to get money for heroin and letting the guy who murdered her dad start having sex with her while she's still asleep because he knows she never would have agreed to it, and so is basically an accomplice to her rape. That bit literally made me feel sick...) and there's a lot of frustration and with the characters (especially Renton) because you're like 'STOP! Why are you doing that! Don't do heroin, it's stupid!' knowing, of course, the whole time that they're going to do it, and they're going to do it for longer than just this book. The end of this book (I guess this is a spoiler, so SPOILER) is so bittersweet, because Renton and Sick Boy can't get any heroin, and they're questioning all their decisions and it feels like they might be alright, as long as you entirely block out the fact that there's another book, all about their heroin use. It's a nice touch, and might even be my favourite bit of the book. Except maybe rehab... END SPOILER.
So. It's rarely easy to read, either in subject matter, or in literal reading terms (have I made that clear enough yet?!) but I mean, once you're invested in some characters, it's harder to not-read a book about them. And clearly these are some pretty terrible people, and yet... I can't help myself. So, obviously, if you've read Trainspotting and/or Porno, you're going to want to read this, and if you haven't, can I in good conscience recommend them at all? Well... Maybe. I was going to read all three in a fairly short period of time to let you decide if you wanted to get invested or not, but I just can't do it because ARGH depressing. So... maybe don't get into it. Or do. Or ask someone else because I JUST DON'T KNOW if it's worth it!