Irvine Welsh gets critical savaging

'Trainspotting' author's novel condemned as 'cliche-ridden, lazy and exhaustingly repetitive'
Click to follow

It's just as well that novelists have a natural tendency to disregard their own bad reviews, or else we might have cause to worry about the well-being of Irvine Welsh.

The best-selling cult author of Trainspotting and other tales of marginal lives in his native Edinburgh has just published his new novel, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, only to have it pulled apart, flagellated and spat upon by no less a publication than the august New York Times.

"Every few years, as a reviewer, one encounters a novel whose ineptitudes are so many in number, and so thoroughgoing, that to explain them fully would produce a text that exceeded the novel itself in both length and interest," the Times's designated reader, the British academic Robert Macfarlane, starts out.

The novel, Mr Macfarlane writes, fails at every imaginable level. The prose is "lazy, cliché-ridden and exhaustingly repetitive". The plot "yawns from implausibility to would-be obscenity - its prose is always bereft of insight, and frequently of competence".

This is not the book's only bad review. One writer described the characters as uninvolving and another said the book was like a faulty light switch - "plenty of shocks, but no real power".

Nobody, though, has been as devastating as The New York Times, usually known for its restraint in passing judgement on just about anything. Mr Macfarlane trots through some of the novel's more excruciating verbal images, including one typically frank description of a male erection "poking through the material" of the protagonist's trousers. He says: "We must assume either that Welsh means 'showing through', or that Kibby has an unusually sharp phallus."

Devastating reviews such as this remain rare in the United States, but have become more common in recent years. The critic Dale Peck became so notorious for his literary hatchet jobs that he ended up publishing them in a collection entitled Hatchet Jobs. He once called Rick Moody, author of The Ice Storm and other acclaimed works, "the worst novelist of his generation".

Such reviews have caused some commentators to express disquiet. The expatriate British writer Heidi Julavits wrote an essay a couple of years ago in which she worried that bad reviews "are just an opportunity for a critic to strive for humour, and to appear funny and smart and a little bit bitchy, without attempting to espouse any higher ideals".

No comment was available from Welsh last night.

Extract: 'Working into a defiant frenzy'

"Taking a last gulp from the plastic Irn-Bru bottle she'd filled with snakebite, she killed it and let it fall to the sticky, carpeted floor. Her brain fizzed with the buzz of it working in tandem with the amphetamine sulphate she'd taken. She roared the words of the songs as she leapt, working herself into a defiant frenzy, going to a place where she could almost forget what he had told her earlier that afternoon. Just after they'd made love when he'd gone so quiet and distant, his thin, wiry frame shivering on the mattress.

- What's up, Donnie? What is it? she'd asked him.

- It's all fucked, he'd said blankly.

She told him not to be daft, everything was brilliant and the Clash gig was happening tonight, they'd been waiting for this for ages. Then he turned round and his eyes were moist and he looked like a child. It was then that her first and only lover had told her that he'd been fucking someone else earlier; right there on the mattress they shared every night, the place where they had just made love.

'The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs' (Cape, £10.99)