Arts & Entertainment: Sunday, June 10, 2001
“Glue” by Irvine Welsh
Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times
Irvine Welsh is best known to the mainstream as the man who wrote the novel that the movie “Trainspotting” was based on.
In the “rave” culture, he is revered as the man who wrote “Ecstasy” and “The Acid House,” collections of stories that depicted raver clubs and electronic music with the same sort of giddy, literary energy Jack Kerouac brought to road trips and jazz.
“Glue” is Welsh’s version of an epic – a fat, multigenerational novel that intercuts the lives of four friends. Terry, Carl, Billy and Andrew are working-class fellows from Edinburgh who drink, drug, talk and generally mess things up in the pursuit of sex, money and other highs.
Welsh relies on voice and set pieces for momentum, rather than plot, which can be problematic in a 469-page book told from alternating points of view. Because of the repetitive nature of the action and the lack of forward motion, there are times when you could swear you already read this chapter.
Another possible put-off is Welsh’s Scottish vernacular. Here’s a typical sentence: “Jist when ah think aboot shoutin oot the windae or gaun doon fir a blether, ah see thit eh’s talkin tae Maggie Orr n this other lassie.”
Well, a typical sentence except that it lacks profanity, the preferred form of self-expression for all four of the protagonists.
That said, the book nonetheless succeeds on its own terms. The men flail along, tossing off brilliant one-liners and finding moments of transcendence and dignity in a world seemingly designed to sabotage, beat and emasculate them. There are shades of Hemingway in passages where the men buck up and carry on.
However, unlike Hemingway’s stories, where men go toe-to-toe against other men or nature or fate, Welsh’s characters mostly battle self-created stumbling blocks – and these lads are not quick learners. This may be one of the reasons the book doesn’t so much resolve as fade out.
In the final chapter, a character laments, “Life had to be more than a series of unsolvable mysteries.” Welsh seems to disagree.