Reheated Cabbage, By Irvine Welsh

This short-story collection is vintage Irvine Welsh
Click to follow

It's a safe bet that an author who uses the title Reheated Cabbage for a miscellaneous collection of mostly old and out-of-print stories isn't taking himself too seriously. Only one of the eight stories here is new, the rest previously appearing in assorted obscure publications from 1994 to 2000. Or, as Irvine Welsh puts it in his acknowledgements, in "one of those toe-curling Scotsploitation or drugsploitation anthologies that prevailed in the nineties, for which I have to assume at least some culpability. Sorry about that."

But for all that this is a motley assortment, it's a total hoot to read. The first thing that strikes you about much of the material here is the amazing energy to Welsh's writing; the visceral thrill of his crazed narratives; the insane rampage of words which affects the stomach and heart as much as the head. There are huge amounts of sex, violence, hatred and drugs, but there is something underpinning it all. Not a morality, quite, but an honesty which makes it completely convincing, despite the outrages that frequently occur.

All the material here is worth reading, but of the more conventional Welshian tales, a couple stand out. "The State of the Party" sees two typical Leith gadgies tripping on microdots then attending a party where their junkie mate dies of an overdose. Asked to leave with the corpse, the pair embark on a long dark night of the schemie soul, the whole journey nicely embodying the chemical highs and fierce comedowns of the Britpop decade.

In "Elspeth's Boyfriend" we see the return of the fearful Begbie, and one is struck by what an awesome fictional creation he is. In the film of Trainspotting, he was necessarily reduced to a rather one-dimensional tyrant, but in print he always had more psychological depth, making his frequent explosions all the more powerful. Here we meet him at his mum's for Christmas dinner, full of hypocrisy, stunning bile and simmering violence, as he takes an instant dislike to his sister's new boyfriend. The tension on the page is palpable.

"The Rosewell Incident" first appeared in 1996, alongside Alan Warner and James Meek, in the seminal Scottish anthology Children of Albion Rovers, and it sees Welsh playfully and skilfully combining his usual demotic world with comedy sci-fi.

And lastly we have "I am Miami", Welsh's one new story and the best thing here. While visiting family in Miami, repressed Edinburgh widower and retired schoolteacher Albert Black stumbles upon former pupils Terry Lawson and Carl "N-Sign" Ewart, the latter now a famous DJ. Delivered with charm, depth and insight, their night together is a wonderfully gentle clash of cultures, ideologies and generations, and even has a mellow, life-affirming resolution which stays the right side of schmaltzy. It's a seriously impressive piece of work, and a sign that Welsh is moving towards intriguing new ground.

The author might not take this collection too seriously, but we certainly should.