1 May 2015

A Decent Ride by Irvine Welsh

Oh Irvine, what are ye like?

To witness the genius behind Trainspotting sink so low in his latest novel, A Decent Ride, has definitely been one of the unhappiest points in my year so far. 

I was full of great expectations for this book, as it features in the central role one of his funniest creations, ‘Juice’ Terry Lawson

Alas, it seems, the ‘Juice Fellay’ is no longer capable of making me crack even a wry smile these days.

For a novel so obviously written as a bittersweet comedy, it is seriously lacking in humour. Terry has become a mere caricature of his former self. His observations regarding life and the opposite sex in former works by Welsh (the novels Glue, Porno and the novella I Am Miami) were always amusing and entertaining. 

Now they are merely puerile and juvenile, certainly unbecoming of a grandfather in his late forties and his sexual conquests are so unbelievable as to be (almost) laughable, so much so that his loss of libido in the second part of the book comes as something of a relief.

The other main character of the book is the idiotic and irritating Jonty McKay, 'a simple country lad fae Penicuik' who, one assumes, is supposed to arouse a degree of sympathy from the reader. I found it a wee bit difficult to feel very sorry for a man who, no matter how mentally challenged he might be, shags his sister, fucks his dead girlfriend, firebombs a pub and participates in desecrating a grave. Ok, I concede in one scene he unwillingly takes it up the arse from his late girlfriend’s father, poor fellow…

Yep, incest, necrophilia, rape et al, this book has ’em all! This desire to pointlessly shock and disgust the reader has been characteristic of far too many of Welsh’s novels, and to me reeks of desperation and a lack of imagination on the author’s part. 

As a great admirer of the Marquis de Sade (in particular his magnum opus The 120 Days of Sodom) I consider myself to be pretty hardened with regard to depravity in literature. It can be argued, however, that there was a sense of purpose behind the Divine Marquis’ worst excesses, but the Divine Irvine’s simply elicit a sense of ennui. 

In fact, the granny shagging scene in The Bedroom Secrets of The Master Chefs, and the brutal rape and degradation of a drunken woman by ‘Chizzie the Beast’ in Porno are bound to disgust the average reader far more than anything contained within A Decent Ride

If Welsh is determined to continue to write in this mode then one can only wonder what tiresome degeneracies he will pen next. 

Coprophilia, maybe? (Hold on – that was hinted at in The Granton Star Cause!) 

We can perhaps be thankful, therefore, there are no scenes involving the torture and murder of dogs, something Welsh has a penchant for and has portrayed in at least three of his books.

For the author is certainly guilty of repetition; that cannot be up for debate. 

The episode in A Decent Ride where Terry murders his odious father in his hospital bed is a good illustration. There have been other similar scenes in previous works, namely the chapter ‘Bad Blood’ in Trainspotting and the conclusion to Marabou Stork Nightmares. Same old, same old (yawn).

Welsh has created something of a microverse for his Edinburgh-based output; certain characters from previous novels have a tendency to feature in others (Daniel ‘Spud’ Murphy, who debuted in Trainspotting probably holds the record). Readers familiar with Welsh’s oeuvre will recognise a few well kenned faces in A Decent Ride. There is nothing wrong with this; in fact it helps to give his work a sense of reality. But, for fuck’s sake Irvine, try to be consistent! 

Whilst this may be a petty gripe, there are a few examples of such glaring inconsistencies in A Decent Ride. For example, in the funeral scene at the beginning of the novel, Post Alec’s late wife’s name is revealed to be ‘Theresa’ whereas she was named as ‘Ethel’ in the previously published Glue

And the fact that Terry is supposed to have been married three times is totally at odds with his previous incarnations. I heartily recommend that Irvine Welsh should appoint a decent continuity editor (I am available myself for a modest fee).

The author’s typographical experiments involving Terry’s prodigious penis (a device he used with a measure of success in Filth involving a talking tapeworm) are also disappointing, prompting Stuart Kelly in his excellent review in The Guardian to remark 'It is as if Welsh was so bored he decided to carve a willy on his desk'.

I have said nothing much about the plot of the novel, such as it is, and do not intend to. If you are a fan of Irvine Welsh (as I am, perversely) you will no doubt purchase A Decent Ride regardless and find out for yourself. 

I went to see him read aloud from the book recently on his book tour of Scotland and the entire audience, excluding myself, were in stitches. 

Perhaps then, it is me who is somewhat lacking in the humour department?

PS. Does anyone actually play golf in the depths of winter? Just a thought…