This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (May 2019) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Trainspotting is the first novel by Scottish writer Irvine Welsh, first published in 1993. It takes the form of a collection of short stories, written in either Scots, Scottish English or British English, revolving around various residents of Leith, Edinburgh who either use heroin, are friends of the core group of heroin users, or engage in destructive activities that are implicitly portrayed as addictions that serve the same function as heroin addiction. The novel is set in the late 1980s and has been described by The Sunday Times as "the voice of punk, grown up, grown wiser and grown eloquent".
|Publisher||Secker & Warburg|
|Media type||Print (Hardback and paperback)|
|LC Class||PR6073.E47 T73 1994|
|Followed by||Porno (in universe) / Marabou Stork Nightmares (publication date)|
The novel has since achieved a cult status, added to by the global success of the film based on it, Trainspotting (1996), directed by Danny Boyle. Welsh wrote a sequel, Porno, in 2002. Skagboys, a novel that serves as a prequel, was published in April 2012.
- 1 Characters
- 2 Structure
- 3 Plot summary
- 4 Stage adaptation
- 5 Film adaptation
- 6 Reception
- 7 Editions
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
- Mark "Rent Boy" Renton – the main character and antihero of the novel, Renton is the voice of reason among his group of friends, many of whom he cannot stand. He narrates his daily life – from supporting his heroin addiction with dole money and petty theft to interacting with the "normal world" – with a cynical approach. He is a cheeky-chappy capable of fitting in well enough to common society, is relatively good-looking and of above-average intelligence, but is misanthropic and depressed, and uses heroin both as a means to show his unhappiness with the way society is, and for hedonistic purposes.
- Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson – A slick, promiscuous, amoral con artist, and Renton's oldest friend. He picks up women with ease and flaunts this quality in front of his friends. He is often on the lookout for potential scams, and despite his friendly, charming facade, he generally regards the women he seduces with little more than contempt. By the end of the novel, he has become a pimp of young girls. Essentially, a combination of Byronic hero and villain, he becomes even more amoral after the death of his daughter Dawn, who asphyxiates while her mother Lesley, and Sick Boy are on a heroin binge (Sick Boy outwardly denies parental responsibility until years after the fact, but it is heavily implied that he blames himself for Dawn's death). Sick Boy considers himself above everyone he interacts with in terms of restraint and moral fibre, despite being one of the most shallow and callous characters in the novel. When thinking to himself, he often imagines he is speaking with Sean Connery. While Begbie represents unavoidable, unanswerable violence to the antihero of the novel, Sick Boy represents cold, calculated expediency, the type of life that Renton would have if he had no conscience or moral restraints.
- Daniel "Spud" Murphy – Naive and childlike, Spud is both the whipping boy and only real source of comfort among Renton's circle of friends; they feel genuinely protective of him, even as they repeatedly mock and take advantage of him. Although very light-fingered, Spud is notably more kindhearted than his friends, shown, for instance, in his love for animals. Spud represents the product of a society indifferent to social ills; he uses heroin because it feels good and because the simple truth is that he would not be able to achieve anything even when sober. Spud is sent to Saughton prison for a section of the novel for petty theft.
- Francis "Franco" Begbie – A violent psychopath, Begbie terrorises his "friends" into going along with whatever he says, assaulting and brutalising anyone who angers him. He expresses intense loyalty to his friends though he considers junkies to be the lowest form of life, despite being thoroughly addicted himself to alcohol, and, most notably, the adrenaline rush of violence. He is part of the YLT (Young Leith Team) street gang.
- Davie Mitchell – The "everyman" of the novel, Davie seems to be the most "normal" of the characters. Unlike the others, he is a university graduate and holds down a decent job, and represents, to a degree, the "straight life" most of the characters try to avoid. He is not immune to the dangers of his environment, however, and his life is thrown into chaos when he contracts HIV; his experiences with the disease form the basis of the story in the chapter "Bad Blood".
- Tommy Lawrence – A childhood friend of Renton's, Tommy does not use heroin and seems completely content to drink, use speed, play football, and listen to Iggy Pop. However, he is insecure and according to Renton, depends on others for validation; when his girlfriend dumps him, he numbs the depression by experimenting with heroin, grudgingly provided by Renton. His resulting addiction, downfall and death weigh on Renton's conscience (and, in part, provoke him to seriously attempt sobriety).
- Rab "Second Prize" McLaughlin – A friend of the main group, who is often inebriated due to drinking vast amounts of alcohol. His nickname comes from the fact that he gets into many fights whilst drunk, and always loses. He had a promising career as a pro footballer lined up, but ruined his chances when he became an alcoholic, and returned home in shame. His girlfriend Carol eventually breaks up with him due to his constant inebriated state. Second Prize often makes a fool of himself whilst drunk, so far as to put his drug addicted friends to shame and embarrassment. He goes to London in the conclusion of the book with the others, and spends the whole time intoxicated.
The novel is split up into seven sections: the first six contain multiple chapters of varying length and differing focus. The novel's origins in short fiction are still visible though no segment or chapter is wholly independent of the others. The majority of the stories are narrated by the novel's central protagonist, Mark Renton.
Each character narrates differently, in a fashion comparable to stream-of-consciousness or representative of psychological realism. For example, Spud will refer to people internally as "cats" (Begbie is a jungle cat, while he himself is a house cat), and Sick Boy will occasionally entertain an inner-dialogue between himself and Sean Connery. Chapters narrated by Renton are written with Scots dialogue terms spelled phonetically, which conveys the character's accent and use of Scots, while Davie's chapters ("Bad Blood", "Traditional Sunday Breakfast") are narrated in Scottish English with dialogue appearing phonetically. Other chapters are written from a third-person omniscient stance (in Standard English) to cover the actions and thoughts of different characters simultaneously. For example, "The First Shag in Ages" covers Spud and Renton's outing to a nightclub where they meet Dianne and her pal, followed by Renton's return to Dianne's and the awkward breakfast that ensues, all the while revealing what each character thinks of the other.
Unlike the film it inspired, the novel's plot is not linear. Characters are often introduced without backstory and without any initially obvious connection either to the core group of characters or to the junkie and lazy lifestyle.
Section 1: KickingEdit
The Skag Boys, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mother Superior - Narrated by Renton. Mark and Simon (aka Sick Boy) are watching a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie when they decide to go buy heroin from Johnny Swan (aka Mother Superior) since they are both feeling symptoms of withdrawal. They cook up with Raymie (who kisses Sick Boy on the mouth) and Alison (who states about heroin "That beats any meat injection...that beats any fuckin' cock in the world..."). After being informed that he should go see Kelly, who has just had an abortion, Renton instead eagerly returns home to watch the rest of his movie.
Junk Dilemmas No. 63 - Narrated by Renton. A short (less than a page) piece comparing his high to an internal sea, while noting: "more short-term sea, more long-term poison".
The First Day of the Edinburgh Festival - Narrated by Renton. Mark initially makes an attempt to come off heroin by acquiring a bare room and all the things he will require when coming down. When withdrawal begins to set in however, he resolves to get another hit to ease the decline. Unable to find any heroin, he acquires opium suppositories which, after a heavy bout of diarrhea, he must recover from a public toilet (a notable scene recreated for the film--"The Worst public Toilet in Scotland") showing just how far a junkie will go for a hit (punctuated by the fact that he had to put up with Mikey Forrester to get them, a dealer he loathes).
In Overdrive - Narrated by Sick Boy. Simon attempts to pick up girls while being annoyed by Mark, who wants to watch videos. Sick Boy loses Renton and launches into an internal self-glorifying, nihilistic diatribe.
Growing Up in Public - Third person narration following Nina, Mark's cousin. Nina is with her family after her Uncle Andy's recent death. She initially feigns indifference but then breaks down without even realising it. It is also revealed that Mark had a catatonic younger brother who died several years before.
Victory on New Year's Day - Third person narration following Stevie. At a party consisting of almost all the key characters in the novel, Stevie cannot stop thinking about his girlfriend who he has asked to marry, but has been left waiting for an answer. They optimistically reunite at the train station following a couple of phone calls.
It Goes without Saying - Narrated by Renton. Lesley's baby, Dawn, has died. Though it appears to be a cot death, it could also have been from neglect. The Skag Boys are uncomfortable and unsure of how to respond to the tragedy as Lesley cries hysterically. However, Simon/Sick Boy becomes notably more emotional and distressed than the others and eventually breaks down and cries as well, stating he is kicking heroin for good and clearly implying Dawn was his daughter. Mark wants to comfort his friend, but is unable to form the words and simply cooks a shot for himself in order to deal with the situation. A sobbing Lesley asks him to also cook her up a hit, which Mark does but makes sure he injects himself before her, stating the action "goes without saying" and proving the harsh truth that no matter what, junk comes first for them all.
Junk Dilemmas No. 64 - Narrated by Renton. Mark's mother is knocking on his door while crying. He ignores her pleas and cooks up a shot. He feels guilty about letting her down, but continues to use drugs anyway.
Her Man - Narrated by Second Prize. After a painful argument with his girlfriend Carol, Second Prize meets Tommy in a pub, and Tommy confronts a man who is openly punching his own girlfriend. They are shocked to find the woman supports her abusive boyfriend instead of her would-be liberators by digging her nails into Tommy's face, inciting a brawl. Second Prize attacks a man who had been laughing at the scene earlier, demanding, "It's a big joke tae you, eh?" While the couple slips out unnoticed, Tommy and Second Prize find themselves taking the blame for the whole affair from the pub locals. On the bus ride home, Second Prize internally commends Tommy for not hitting the woman who attacks him, and reveals that his earlier argument with Carol had turned physical, reflecting: "Ah've done loads ay things ay things in ma time ah'm no proud ay, bit ah've nivir hit a burd. What Carol says is shite. She says thit ah used violence oan her, bit ah nivir hit her. Ah jist held ontae her so thit we could talk. She sais restrainin is like hittin, it's still violence against her. Ah cannae see that. Aw ah wanted tae dae wis tae keep her thair, tae talk."
Speedy Recruitment - Varied narration (third person while together in the pub, first person for each interview.) Spud and Renton both have a job interview for the same job, but neither of them wants the job as they would prefer to be unemployed and to continue to receive social security. Both Renton and Spud take Amphetamine prior to their interview, where Renton pretends to be an upper-class heroin addict, while Spud rambles incoherently (only Spud's interview is shown in the movie).
Section 2: RelapsingEdit
Scotland Takes Drugs in Psychic Defence - Narrated by Tommy. He goes to an Iggy Pop gig on the same day as his girlfriend's birthday. He spends the entire chapter using speed and alcohol. The chapter's title refers to an Iggy Pop lyric, which Tommy vehemently affirms.
The Glass - Narrated by Renton. Focuses on his "friendship" with Begbie. Renton, Begbie and their girlfriends meet up for a drink before going to a party, but it ends when Begbie throws a glass off a balcony, hitting someone and splitting open their head. After this, Begbie smiles at Renton and proceeds to announce to the party he will find whoever threw that glass before attacking random innocent people in the pub and setting off a huge pub brawl. Renton concludes his thoughts on Begbie saying "He really is a cunt ay the first order. Nae doubt about that. The problem is, he's a mate n aw. What kin ye dae?"
A Disappointment - Narrated by Begbie. Continues the theme of the last chapter. Begbie recalls an ordinary story of being in the pub and staring at a man whom he wanted to fight.
Cock Problems - Narrated by Renton. Tommy comes round to Renton's flat (shortly after Renton injected a shot into his penis, hence the title) after being dumped by his girlfriend. Tommy asks Renton to give him some heroin, which he reluctantly does. This sets off Tommy's gradual decline into addiction.
Traditional Sunday Breakfast - Narrated by Davie. Davie has woken up at the house of his girlfriend's mother in a puddle of urine, vomit and faeces, after a night of drinking. Embarrassed, he attempts to make off with the sheets and wash them himself. However, Gail's mother starts tugging at the sheets, he resists, and the contents fly all over the family, their kitchen, and their breakfast. (In the film, this unfortunate event is attributed to Spud).
Junk Dilemmas No. 65 - Narrated by Renton. Mark has been lying in a heroin induced daze with someone (whom he ascertains to be Spud), wondering how long they've been there and noting that it could be days since anybody said anything. Renton stresses how cold he is to Spud. Spud is completely unresponsive and Mark thinks he may be dead, seeming unsurprised if he is.
Grieving and Mourning in Port Sunshine - third person narration. Renton's brother Billy and his friends Lenny, Naz Peasbo, and Jackie are waiting for their friend Granty to arrive for a game of cards, as he is holding the money pot. They later find out that Granty is dead and his girlfriend has disappeared with the money, prompting them to beat Jackie, whom they knew to have been sleeping with her.
Section 3: Kicking AgainEdit
Inter Shitty - Narrated by Begbie. Begbie and Renton have pulled an unknown crime and have decided to lie low in London. The chapter covers their train journey.
Na Na and Other Nazis - Narrated by Spud, who has managed to kick heroin. He visits his grandmother, where his mixed-race uncle Dode is staying. He recounts the trouble that Dode has had with racism growing up, particularly an event when he and Spud went to a pub and were soon assaulted by white power skinheads saying slogans such as "ain't no black in the Union Jack". This abuse led to a fight, which left Dode hospitalised, where Spud visits him. "I've had worse in the past and I'll have worse in the future" Dode tells Spud, who begs him not to say such things. "He looks at us like I'll never understand and I know he's probably right."
The First Shag in Ages - Third person narration. Renton has kicked heroin and is restless. He ends up picking up a girl at a nightclub, Dianne, and sleeping with her, unaware that she is only fourteen. He is later forced to repeatedly lie to her parents at breakfast the following morning. Despite his guilt and discomfort, he presumably sleeps with Dianne again when she shows up at his flat.
Strolling Through the Meadows - Narrated by Spud. Spud, Renton and Sick Boy take some ecstasy and stroll to The Meadows where an excited Sick Boy and Renton try to kill a squirrel but stop after Spud becomes upset by their actions towards the animal. He states to the reader that you can't love yourself if you hurt animals as it's wrong and compares their innocence to that of Simon's dead baby Dawn. He also notably states that squirrels are "lovely" and "free" and that "that's maybe what Rents can't stand" indicating Mark envies those he feels are completely unbound and free. Mark, in reaction to Spud's distress and disappointment in his actions, is clearly ashamed and Spud forgives him quickly and the pair embrace, before Simon humorously breaks them up by stating they should either "go fuck each other in the trees" or help him find Begbie and Matty.
Section 4: Blowing ItEdit
Courting Disaster - Narrated by Renton. Renton and Spud are in court for stealing books. Renton gets a suspended sentence due to his attempts at rehabilitation, while Spud is given a short prison sentence. Those attending the hearing relocate to a nearby pub to celebrate. Renton becomes increasingly despairing of his situation and the people around him and slips out the pub's back door unnoticed with the intent of going to Swanney's for a hit, "to get us over this long, hard day."
Junk Dilemmas No. 66 - An extremely short passage, presumably narrated by Renton. Renton reflects that his heroin hit has removed his ability to move. (In the movie this happens after he goes into rehab and still has methadone in his system "just one more hit")
Deid Dugs - Narrated by Sick Boy. Using an air rifle, Sick Boy shoots a Bull Terrier, which then attacks its skinhead owner, giving Sick Boy the excuse he needs to kill the dog, which he proceeds to do, using its own collar. He delights when a police officer arrives and informs Sick Boy that he will be recommended for a commendation.
Searching for the Inner Man - Narrated by Renton. An important chapter in which Renton reflects on why he used heroin after seeing several psychiatrists, all of whom have different unrelenting approaches to clinical psychology taken from various 20th century psychologists. Renton's cynicism has stopped him from forming meaningful relationships with anyone, and he is unable to get any enjoyment out of anything. Mark confesses he had a hard childhood because of his catatonic younger brother.
House Arrest - Narrated by Renton. Renton relapses and has to suffer heroin withdrawal at his parents' house, where he experiences hallucinations of dead baby Dawn, the television programme he is watching, and the lecture provided by his father. He is later visited by Sick Boy and goes out to a pub with his parents, whose unnerving enthusiasm acts as a veneer for their authoritative treatment. Mark is confronted with the tedium and triviality of "normal" life, and it is hinted that he will begin using again.
Bang to Rites - Narrated by Renton. Renton's brother Billy dies in Northern Ireland with the British Army. Renton attends the funeral; there, he almost starts a fight with some of his father's unionist relatives, and ends up having sex with Billy's pregnant girlfriend in the toilets. Demonstrating some topicality, Renton discusses the hypocrisy of Unionism, and the British in Northern Ireland (commencing with an internal rant against his father's family, who are largely bigoted Orangemen).
Junk Dilemmas No. 67 - Another extremely short passage, also presumably narrated by Renton. Renton reflects on the depravity of the world, concluding that deprivation is "relative", as well as considers the problems the pills he is about to use will cause to his veins when injected. He concludes that there are never any dilemmas with junk, and that the ones there are only show up when the junk "runs oot".
Section 5: ExileEdit
London Crawling - Narrated by Renton. Renton finds himself stranded in London with no place to sleep. He tries to fall asleep in an all-night porno theatre, but there he meets an Italian man named Gi, who makes a pass at him. Renton says he's not gay, and after Gi apologetically offers him a place to sleep, Renton takes him up on the offer. However, in the middle of the night, Renton wakes to find Gi masturbating over him and has semen on his cheeks and face. Renton reacts violently, but then takes pity on the sobbing old man. In the morning he takes Gi to breakfast and a party. On the way, Gi tells him the tragedy of his life — how he had a wife and children who he cared about deeply, yet he could not help falling in love with his brother in law Antonio. After their affair was revealed the two suffered extremely violent homophobic abuse at the hands of Antonio's brothers, leading his lover to kill himself. At the party, Renton notes sadly how frightened and confused Gi looks whilst lamenting the behaviour of the drugged and sexed up party revellers. The chapter concludes with Renton considering sex with Gi, showing a bisexual side to the character.
Bad Blood - Narrated by Davie. Davie, now HIV-positive, takes a particularly horrible revenge upon the man he suspects raped his girlfriend and gave her HIV, leading to his own contraction of the disease. Davie befriends the man, and when the man is on his deathbed Davie tells him that he just savagely raped and violently murdered the man's six-year-old son after dating the man's ex, going so far as to provide photos of the murdered child. After the man's death, Davie reveals to the reader that he never actually hurt the boy; the whole story was made up and that he had actually chloroformed the child in order to create the fake photos. The chapter ends with Davie seemingly finding a new lease of life despite his illness.
There is a Light That Never Goes Out - Third person narration. After a binge drinking and partying session, Renton, Spud, Begbie, Gav, Alison and others venture out for another drink and then something to eat. Spud and others reflect upon their sex lives. The chapter is named after a song by The Smiths, in whose lyrics Spud finds solace after his failed attempt at making a pass at a woman.
Feeling Free - Narrated by Kelly. Kelly and Alison create a scene in front of a construction site by getting into an argument with some construction workers. They meet some backpacking women and the foursome end up returning to Kelly's, where they get high and their new-found friends reveal they are in fact lesbians from New Zealand. The girls have a general laugh about, then Renton arrives on a surprise visit for Kelly. The girls pick on him, making particular fun of his masculinity; he takes it in good humour and leaves, noting that Kelly is already busy. Immediately afterwards the women feel guilty for ganging up on him, though Kelly feels that men are only alright "when in the minority".
The Elusive Mr Hunt - Third person narration. Sick Boy prank calls Kelly's pub where she works from across the street. He asks her to look for a "Mark Hunt" and only after she has called the name out ("This boy is wantin Mark Hunt") around the pub a few times does she realise how much the men in the pub are laughing at her and how the name sounds like "my cunt (when said in a Scottish accent)" causing her a great deal of embarrassment. Renton is present in the pub at the time and laughing along with the other men at Kelly, until he realises she has tears in her eyes. At first he thinks she is being silly and shouldn't take the laughter to heart, but then he recognises the laughter from the men in the pub isn't friendly. "It's not funny laughter. This is lynch mob laughter. How was ah tae know, he thinks. How the fuck was ah tae know?"
Section 6: HomeEdit
Easy Money for the Professionals - Narrated by Spud. Spud, Begbie, and a teenager have engaged in a criminal robbery. Spud recounts the crime and comments on Begbie's paranoia and how the teenager is likely to get ripped off by the pair.
A Present - Narrated by Renton. Gav tells Renton the story of how Matty died of toxoplasmosis after attempting to rekindle his relationship with his ex using a kitten (a scene re-created for Tommy's funeral in the film version).
Memories of Matty - Third person narration. The group attends Matty's funeral, where they reflect on his downfall and what may have caused it.
Straight Dilemmas No. 1 - Narrated by Renton. Renton finds himself at a small gathering in a London flat surrounded by casual drug users. While the others at the party indulge in joints containing opium and try to berate Renton as a 'suit and tie' light-weight, Renton muses on the idea that they have no clue what true drug addiction entails.
Eating Out - Narrated by Kelly. Kelly is working as a waitress in an Edinburgh restaurant and gets revenge on some unpleasant customers.
Trainspotting at Leith Central Station - Narrated by Renton. Renton returns to Leith for Christmas. He meets Begbie, who beats up an innocent man after having seen his alcoholic father in the disused Leith Central railway station.
A Leg-Over Situation - Narrated by Renton. Renton goes to see a previous drug dealer, Johnny Swann, who has had his leg amputated due to heroin use.
A Scottish Soldier - Third person narration. Johnny Swann is reduced to begging, pretending to be a soldier who lost his leg in the Falklands War. Swann is quite optimistic and exclaims that he is making more money begging rather than dealing heroin.
Section 7: ExitEdit
Station to Station - Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie, Spud and Second Prize go to London to engage in a low-key heroin deal and see a Pogues gig. The book ends with Renton stealing the cash and going to Amsterdam. As the movie and sequel, Porno, both imply, Spud is compensated, in the novel, Renton thinks to himself that he will send Spud his cut, as he is the only 'innocent' party.
Soon after publication, the book was adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson. The stage version inspired the subsequent film, and regularly toured the UK in the mid-1990s. This adaptation starred Ewen Bremner and later Tam Dean Burn as Renton.
In 2013 In Your Face Theatre and Seabright Productions staged a new immersive production of Gibson's adaptation rebranded as Trainspotting Live. Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin, this production has gone on to sell out at three Edinburgh Festival Fringes and played to critical acclaim in London, on several UK tours and in New York City.
The film was directed by Danny Boyle, with an adapted screenplay written by John Hodge. It starred Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner. Irvine Welsh made a cameo appearance as the drug dealer Mikey Forrester. The film has been ranked 10th by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of Top 100 British films of all time. It also brought Welsh's book to an international cinema audience and added to the phenomenal popularity of the novel.
Welsh claimed that the book had sold over one million copies in the UK by 2015, and been translated into thirty languages.
- Irvine Welsh plans Trainspotting prequel The Sunday Times. 16-03-2008. Retrieved on 07-10-2010
- Sunday Times.
- Contemporary Scottish Fictions--Film, Television, and the Novel: Film, Television and the Novel, by Duncan J. Petrie. Published by Edinburgh University Press, 2004.ISBN 0748617892. Page 101-102.
- A fourth book in the series, Dead Men’s Trousers, was released in March 2018.Bookworm - The Scotsman - Prequelspotting
- Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle 2000-2002 Awards (website)
- Some Enchanted Evening: The 24th Annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards from the L.A. Weekly (website)
- Trainspotting British Film Institute (BFI).
- The Contemporary British Novel, by James Acheson, Sarah C. E. Ross. Published by Edinburgh University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-7486-1895-3. Page 43-44.
- Irvine Welsh - Biography
- Daily Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/fameandfortune/11653606/Irvine-Welsh-I-was-a-heroin-addict-then-I-found-buy-to-let.html. Retrieved 23 July 2019. Missing or empty
- Screening Trainspotting Irvine Welsh, by Aaron Kelly. Published by Manchester University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-7190-6651-4.Page 68.
- Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting: A Reader's Guide, by Robert A. Morace. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001. ISBN 0-8264-5237-X.
- Working-class Fiction: From Chartism to Trainspotting, by Ian Haywood. Published by Northcote House in association with the British Council, 1997. ISBN 0-7463-0780-2.