BOOK REVIEW / The Acid House - Irvine Welsh: Cape, 9.99

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The Independent Culture
IN HIS stories, Irvine Welsh deals with people who are trapped. The Edinburgh he writes about is the Edinburgh of the under-employed and the ill-employed, the drug addicts and layabouts, the pensioner in 'Granny's Old Junk' who sells heroin to the kids next door, and the many who feel betrayed but are not sure by whom.

Nevertheless, Welsh's subjects are recognisable and likeable. He describes their frustrations and dilemmas and tragedies with a sympathy that is not without grim humour. Life on the rim is onerous, unpleasant, and hopeless, he observes, returning to themes elaborated in last year's novel Trainspotting. But, if anything, the tone is darker here, the frailty of human relations and the sense of guilt more strongly emphasised.

Irvine Welsh has been compared with James Kelman, and rightly so, because his novel and many of his stories refer, like Kelman's, to a sort of monomaniacal interior monologue in which despair and black humour complement each other, and because, like the Glaswegian writer, he is fascinated by the many layers of meaning in speech and by the difficulty of communication.

The style of writing ranges from the documentary realism of 'The Shooter' in which, underlying the precise and matter-of-fact description of Leith gun culture, there is an urgent sense of menace, to the demented fantasy of 'Where the Debris Meets the Sea' in which Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Victoria Principal and Kim Basinger size up Rab Logan and Tam McKenzie and the other Edinburgh talent. A day trip to Glasgow in 'The Two Philosophers' begins with an involuntary seminar and ends with a punch-up. But perhaps the best story is 'The Acid House' itself, a brilliant study of love and alcohol and social oppression which is relieved by some marvellously comic passages. It also possesses an authenticity that can only derive from the author's identification with his subject matter.

Welsh's ear is tuned to a phenomenally fine degree. Not only does he render speech rhythms accurately and sensually but he is sensitive to nuances of class and character among all his variegated characters, rendering the minute distinctions of vocabulary and emphasis in different kinds of profane speech to which most of us would probably be tone-deaf.