Reheated Cabbage, By Irvine Welsh

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The Independent Culture

Irvine Welsh's latest collection of eight stories features very few likeable characters. Almost to a man (and the main characters do tend to be men), they are selfish, greedy, hedonistic, aggressive, violent, misogynistic, self-pitying, and trapped within a blaming perspective. "A Fault on the Line", in which a woman suffers a truly horrific injury as a direct result of her husband's urgent need to get home and watch the football, begins: "As far as it went wi me it wis her own fuckin fault." "Elspeth's Boyfriend", meanwhile, is narrated by the psychopathic Begbie, who headbutts the eponymous boyfriend in return for saving his life.

It is impossible to like such characters, but in every case Welsh shows how they got to be that way, and the wit, cynicism and fury of their voices makes you laugh even as you wince. Often it's a mistake to try to render dialect phonetically, but Welsh's transcription of Scots dialect is brilliant, enabling the characters' voices to shout, grumble, whine, laugh, sneer and swear aloud from the page.

Welsh also has a fabulous sense of the absurd. One particularly unpleasant, homophobic character is punished after death by being made to "walk the earth as a homosexual ghost buggering [his] old mates and acquaintances". In "The Rosewell Incident", an alien who's learnt his English from the Edinburgh underclass tells an assembly of world leaders in Washington: "We could fucking run youse like that... Aw yir fuckin weapons, thir fuckin nowt aginst us, eh."

Only the last of the stories, the novella-length "I Am Miami", offers redemption and something approaching a happy ending. Even then, that's only because the main characters happen to take ecstasy; as one of the characters observes, if it had been cocaine, things would have gone very differently. The overall vibe of these stories is dark and grim. And fierily, fiercely funny.