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Indiespensable

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Review-a-Day
Salon.com
Friday, June 15th, 2001


 

Glue

by Irvine Welsh

A review by Amy Benfer

Reading anything by Irvine Welsh is sort of like reading Chaucer if you are not fluent in Middle English. Of course, if you are fluent in Middle English, you will probably not understand much of Welsh's working-class Scottish brogue. There's a lot of talk about boys "gitting their hole," "shagging cunts" (sometimes two at a time) and "leathering laddies" after "fitba" matches by bopping them on the "heid" with "boutils." If something is good, it's "barry," if it's not so good, it's "wide." And we haven't even covered the verbs or the prepositions yet.

It's best to shrug one's shoulders and go for full immersion in Welsh's language, which, like good lager, is strong, heady and likely to produce symptoms of intoxication. A few details will probably slip past you like lost car keys, but Welsh's prose will get you drunk all the same. (And if you are the kind of person who swears that you understand foreign languages better when tipsy, a little actual lager may help things along.)

Glue follows a group of four laddies growing up in the Edinburgh projects. We first meet them during their school days in the '70s (mostly spent leathering laddies, looking for hole, shagging hole and getting kicked out of school); the second third of the book finds them in their early 20s in 1990 (still shagging and leathering, but doing it with ecstasy and acid house, not to mention several wives and children who are sometimes in their houses and sometimes on the periphery); the last third brings them up to 2000, when they are in their mid-30s (still mostly shagging, leathering, doing E. and acid house, but all more slowly and, in the case of several of the original boys, on different continents.)

Reading this novel is something like spending 20 years in a pub, listening to boys talk about the things they talk about when the girls aren't around (though one gets plenty of play-by-play of what happens when the girls are around as well, including not a few sex scenes -- some hot, some pathetic and many frankly touching, especially the ones that come later on in the book as the characters age). It's a world governed by strict rules of conduct, including: Never hit a woman, always back up your mates, never scab and never let a week go by without investing in new vinyl (in this case, the soundtrack includes the Clash, the Jam, David Bowie and Beck, all serving to remind one of the bestselling CD to Welsh's Trainspotting, the movie.)

The first two on this list are the ones that (certain) boys in this group have some issues with. Welsh's novel describes a highly scripted, slangy, violent, sexy, drunken series of events that, over time, constitutes a fully realized vision of the world. (And, like a night dancing on E. to acid house, it's often a damn good time.) You can't ask for much more than that.


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