Rereading Irvine Welsh: Trainspotting, Porno & their film and stage adaptations

t2-1One of the objectives behind the Year of No New Books was to encourage me to reread books that I’ve loved (or at least highly respected) in the past. I’d recently become quite an advocate for the rereading of books after discovering that a second reading, particularly if it happened soon after the initial one, deeply enhanced my appreciation and understanding of the text.

Back when I worked as a bookseller, I’d been one of the organisers of my local bookshop’s bookclub. Customers would pay a small fee and come along to the monthly gathering where we would nestle in comfy armchairs in front of the open fire at our local pub and, with a glass of wine in hand, we’d discuss the book. To ensure a lively debate, I’d always make sure I was well prepared and would thoroughly research the book in question – reading reviews and author interviews, taking extensive notes on themes, character development, historical context – you know the drill.

A significant part of my process was reading the book twice. Until I made this an intrinsic part of my preparation I had no idea how plot-focused I was as a reader.  On my first reading I’d usually be so obsessed with what was happening and trying to second-guess what was about to happen that appreciation of all the other aspects of the book would fade into the background. It wasn’t until I reread a book that I’d be freed from my preoccupation with plot and could really concentrate on all the other aspects of the author’s skill. Although I’d appreciate these underlying features on some level during the initial reading, I’d not be analysing them with the attention or depth I’d give them on my second pass at the book.

Anyway, that was a long-winded way of explaining my consideration of rereading as an act of profound engagement with a book.

t1-1My first reread of a much-loved novel for the year was Trainspotting. It wouldn’t have been my first choice but I was asked to review Trainspotting Live, a stage production showing at the Adelaide Fringe, so I thought I’d better reread the novel then re-watch the film in preparation for reviewing the performance. I’d forgotten how much I loved the language. Reading phonetic Scots is like a reading foreign language in which I’m only semi-literate. It’s such slow going! It truly feels like an act of translation. But I loved what it did to my reading. I lingered over sentences until I heard the flow of their speech in my mind. This is the way I should read all the time – giving every line close attention, treating the sentences like valued individuals. It was a revelation.

I’d also forgotten how much the novel differed from the film in structure and point of view. The novel comprises short powerful stories all told from the perspective of various characters. The main four (Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie) all have multiple stories but minor characters are also given a voice. The stores told by the female and HIV positive characters I found to be especially powerful.

The film was a jolt of nostalgia. It’s a classic and I’ll never forget the shock of seeing it on the big screen back in the mid-nineties. The music! For me, it was one of the defining pieces of cinema of my youth.

trainspotting-live-adelaide-fringe-1200x675So, I saw the stage production and submitted my review (if you want to read my piece, here it is). Then, because I was clearly all over Irvine Welsh’s early work, my editor offered me the chance to review the film sequel T2 – Trainspotting. The problem was I’d lost my copy of Porno (the book on which the sequel is based) and of course, being the Year of No New Books, I couldn’t just pop out and buy a new copy.

I tried the local library. Their copy was lost in transit somewhere between Quorn and Stirling. I put out a call on facebook. No joy. I tried the University Library, the State Library – my friend even put a hold on a copy down in Port Adelaide. It seemed every publically available copy was currently being read by a member of said public. In desperation I tried second-hand bookshops whose profits go to charity. Oxfam, Lions Club, The Hutt. No dice. Eventually, with two days left before the film opened I sent my poor husband into Dymock’s to buy a copy so I could claim that I didn’t purchase it. It would be “a gift”. Despite my ridiculous and dodgy navigation of my self-imposed rule there was no other way to look at it. I had failed. Andrew claimed that I could lodge an appeal on the grounds of employment – as part of my work I needed to read a copy and thus could justify it since all other efforts to acquire a copy had proved unsuccessful.

All I can say in my defense is that my review (click here) was more thorough for the indirect breaking of my vow.  And while neither Porno (now republished as T2 Trainspotting) nor its film adaptation are the equal of their brilliant originals, the sequels are both worth your time (once, but perhaps not a rereading).