If you're familiar with the 1996 film "Trainspotting" (starring Ewan McGregor and Robert Caryle), let's just say that I never knew that it would become one of my favorite films of all time. It could be several factors, one of them being that the film carried one of the finest depictions of drug use, its resulting depravity, and culture in contemporary film history. I will go as far as to say that I loved it more than I did "Requiem for a Dream" (also another good anti-drug/addiction flick and a spectacular intro to Darren Aronofsky).
I was skeptical of the novel version by Irvine Welsh (which I had been very, very skeptical of since my teenage due to my fear of the differing dialect used ), and had to read through later novels "Filth" (about a sociopath in the disguise of a police inspector) and "Glue" (which can be seen as a companion piece to "Trainspotting" because of similar themes which I will mention) to get used to the heavy Scottish dialect that Welsh uses throughout his debut novel. For example: "Begbie's like a psychopathic detective oot ay an Agatha Christie whodunit, cross-examinin every ****. He's blowin it; it is so ****in obvious. Ah'm doon thair, stickin a ****in bar-towel oan the draftpak's split heid, tryin tae stem the blood." (pg. 80)
The dialect takes a bit to get used to, and may require that you read slowly and carefully, but once you get the hang of it, let's just say that it becomes near-impossible to obsess over and put down.
I won't really go into details about its plot, though I will go into detail about a couple of key characters: Mark Renton (protagonist), Franco Begbie (also a major character, and a vicious one), and Spud Murphy.
In the case of Mark Renton, he's an avid heroin user throughout the first half of the novel, yet next to Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson, he's also the most level-headed of the characters, complete with his unique brand of black humor ("It's easy tae be philosophical when some other ****'s goat ****e for blood. -- pg. 10), and internal struggles with trying to come off heroin. In a sense, you can see him as a lovable guy, even though his depravity says otherwise.
Franco Begbie comes off as a 'false antagonist' to me. He's a complete psychopath, womanizer, and vicious drunk who detests even going near heroin, but is very loyal to his circle of friends who, in turn, fear him (which is where loyalty as a theme comes strongly to mind). At the same time, he's also very compelling despite his misanthropy ("These nosey ****s in front ay us look roond. Ah stares back at the ****s. Some ****er's oan a burst mooth before the end ay this ****in journey, ah kin see that now." -- pg. 115), evident by his pervasive use of the word '****', which is a highly derogatory term yet a common insult in British/Scottish slang like 'idiot'. Another funny (and compelling) thing about the character is that he virtually lacks any sense of humor ("That ****in borin **** starts readin a ****in book; bad ****in manners, then him n this Canadian burd, thir bath sortay students like, start talkin aboot aw the ****in books thuv read. It's gettin oan my ****in tits. -- pg. 116).
Spud came off as kind of a 'tragic character' to me because of his innocence throughout the work. It's easy to feel a strong sense of compassion for him because he naturally doesn't mean any harm to his circle of friends. I think his standout sequence (which was also in the film) was the 'Job Interview' sequence (titled 'Speedy Recruitment') beginning on page 62 where Renton and Spud are under the influence of amphetamines during a job interview ("This speed is el magnifico, likesay. Ah feel sortay dynamic, ken, likesay, ah'm really lookin forward tae this interview. Rents sais: Sell yirsell Spud, n tell the truth. Let's go for it cats, let's get it on..." -- pg. 65). I state tragic because Renton felt sorry for Spud the most (as evidenced in the closing pages).
If there is a series of themes that heavily define the work, it's: Loyalty, Loss, Addiction, and the impact of drug culture in Scotland (heroin is the primary drug of choice used in the work). But Welsh handles these themes with compassion, humanity, laugh-out-loud black comedy, and some stunning character development that succeeds by a long shot at humanizing the depravity within each character, and the environment itself (Edinburgh, Scotland).
If I were to recommend this book to anyone, I will state that "Trainspotting" is where I gained a profound respect for Irvine Welsh, who's currently an excellent cult figure in not only British fiction, but the entirety of contemporary fiction while simultaneously being ahead of his time.