A Decent Ride by Irvine Welsh, book review: Fiction to make cleantext blush

Welsh's sex-obsessed, drug-addled taxi driver offers more of the same dramas

Oddly, I have never read Irvine Welsh, though I did see Danny Boyle's film of his comico-prurient first novel Trainspotting, about smack addicts glamorously adrift in mid-1980s Edinburgh. This, Welsh's tenth, A Decent Ride, is more of the same and, according to the publishers, his "funniest, filthiest book yet". They would say that.

Set in Edinburgh in 2011 in the aftermath of Hurricane Bawbag (Scots slang for "scrotum", or "annoying person"), A Decent Ride concerns the tribulations of a sex-obsessed, drug-peddling taxi-driver called "Juice" Terry Lawson. At heart a decent man, he attends AA-like sex addicts' meetings and seeks to improve himself intellectually by reading (unlikely as it may seem) Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.

One day, dreadfully for him, his sexual prowess evaporates after a cardiac upset. In despair, he develops a bizarre compensatory love of golf, allowing Welsh to indulge his legendary filthy humour. "Focus on that hole. On gittin it inae that fuckin hole. That dark fuckin hole". (And so on, I regret to say.) Along the way, we meet a cast of Edinburgh drifters and gangland cuties with Damon Runyonesque nicknames like Johnny Cattarh, Rehab Connor, Ginger Bastard, Stumpy Jack, Shite Cop and Sick Boy (late of Trainspotting). Many of these no-hopers seek oblivion in the "Pub With No Name", a place apparently emblematic of Edinburgh after Hurricane Bawbag, with its "rain-blackened" streets and air of abandonment.

Once again, much of the novel is narrated in lowlands vernacular. ("Ah'm nae gangster or career tea leaf or drug dealer, but ah never look a gift horse in the mooth"). Of course, the use of phonetic Scots dialect in fiction is nothing new. Robert Louis Stevenson's 1881 short story 'Thrawn Janet' unfolded in Lallans Scots, the near-vanished dialect of south-western Scotland. Unlike Stevenson (or, more recently, the Glasgow-born novelist James Kelman), Welsh switches constantly to standard English, perhaps as a sop to Sassenach ears.

While Bawbag buffets Edinburgh with 80mph winds and sheets of "buckshot rain", the "track-suited" Lawson embarks on a quest to find a missing woman friend of his called Jinty Magdalen. Danger is never far away in Welsh's caricature Hibernia. Jinty's lover, Wee Jonty MacKay, is a liability whom Lawson tries with difficulty to keep out of trouble. A local gangster known as The Poof and his "dumb scowly" side-kick Kelvin seem to be implicated in Jinty's disappearance. A Polish streetwalker called Saskia ("Ah widnae say she wis a fat hoor, but she's no exactly skinny!") adds to the novel's lubricious high jinx.

When not fantasising about women friends ("Her strict religious views mean that her fanny is off-limits"), Lawson maunders on – and boringly on – about pornography. Sick Boy, having decamped to London, runs a website called X-tra Perversevere, while in Anal Torpedo 3 Lawson was happy to star as the captain of a whaling ship crewed by porn stars in fishnet tights. "Catchphrase: 'Thar she blows!'" (Snarf, snarf.) The trouble with this sort of Viz comic smut ("minge merchant", "posh fanny") is that a little of it goes a long way. "Dinnae be so repetitive, Mr Welsh", I kept on wanting to say. "Thaire's nae need!" For all the robust Scots vernacular, A Decent Ride presents something like a seedy old man's view of the world as a playground for porn, cans of Tennent's lager and prostitutes in "sexy" tight wee skirts. Welsh is now 56. This novel, by turns scabrous and slightly silly, will appeal to style magazine journalists, pseudish university students and those who like to absorb themselves pruriently in the misfortunes of others.

Comments