Unstinting bravado... Irvine Welsh returns
Irvine Welsh's typically abrasive new novel about an oversexed cabbie returns to his native 'Embra'
In a prickly foreword to a new edition of Bret Easton Ellis's violent satire American Psycho (1991), Irvine Welsh dismisses objections to the novel's portrait of misogyny as coming from "a place of politics, not art".
Did he also have his own critics in mind? His 1993 debut, Trainspotting, about benefit cheats on heroin, narrowly missed the Booker shortlist when it split the jury over his representation of women, minor characters relentlessly degraded by the male leads.
Although Welsh has long since left behind Trainspotting's nihilism for warmer-hearted (but equally mucky) comic capers, he still rejects what someone in his new novel calls "plitikill kirrectniss". A Decent Ride marks the return of Juice Terry, the oversexed cabbie first seen in Glue (2001), whose motto for dealing with "birds" (aka "rides" or "fanny") runs: "F--- off means naw, naw means mibbe, mibbe means aye n aye means anal. Guaranteed!"
After setting last year's The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins in his adopted home of Miami, Welsh returns here to his native "Embra", with an expat's care for detail: pandas, the saga of the city's tram network and the financial troubles at Heart of Midlothian FC are all woven into the exuberantly grimy plot (incest, necrophilia).
The premise is that Terry, now a grandfather, has been diagnosed with a heart problem that forces him to lay off "the Ian McLagan", or "shaggin".
In between cocaine deals and looking after a brothel, he turns to golf ("ah suddenly understand it now… aw life's frustrations are about no gittin yir hole!") and gets mixed up with an American entrepreneur who offers him a retainer to work as his driver during his visit to "Skatlin".
Welsh is nearly 60. The unstinting bravado of his narrators functions increasingly as a Trojan horse for concerns a more conservative writer might share. When a girl buttonholes Terry for a role in one of his homemade porn films, he laments: "You once had to work hard to convince lassies to do scud. Now many students just see it as another way to supplement their income. They practically audition."
You know Welsh isn't joking when he drops the phonetics, but I doubt he wants us to take A Decent Ride too seriously. Although much of its pathos comes from a subplot about Terry's learning-disabled half-brother and his missing girlfriend, Welsh drops this thread without consequence, leaving him open to the kind of criticism he rejects. Still, he's on good form here, and it's a stern reader who wouldn't fall for his filthy charm.
Fiction: A Decent Ride
Jonathan Cape, hbk, 496pps
Available with free P&P on www.kenny.ie