Welsh is one of the few contemporary Scottish authors to have captured the attention of mainstream America. What’s the attraction?
No other Scottish writer has managed to penetrate contemporary American culture with as much success as Irvine Welsh. What is it about this seemingly average Scotsman that’s kept the attention of American readers since the release of his 1993 novel Trainspotting?
Partly, it’s his Hollywood appeal. Like some sort of depraved love child of William S. Burroughs and Bret Easton Ellis, Welsh has the ability to create and deconstruct characters of loose morals with the ease of a veteran junkie finding a vein. The author, who has never compromised the vernacular of his heritage in favor of making his prose more palatable to an American audience, consistently delivers fiction with the witty yet high-octane, one-two punch of a Guy Ritchie film.
From the heroin-addled misfits of Trainspotting to the bizarre and surreal events of the short story collection The Acid House, Welsh has an undeniable magnetism when it comes to appealing to not only American machismo, but to our idealization of freedom. The defiance of his characters is something Americans aspire to — us, stuck in our cube jobs longing for something we can’t afford. Welsh’s breakdown of Scottish culture resonates with us because, despite differences in geography, his ideas remain utterly salient. From Trainspotting:
Society invents a spurious convoluted logic tae absorb and change people whae's behaviour is outside its mainstream. Suppose that ah ken aw the pros and cons, know that ah'm gaunnae huv a short life, am ay sound mind etcetera, etcetera, but still want tae use smack? They won't let ye dae it. They won't let ye dae it, because it's seen as a sign ay thir ain failure. The fact that ye jist simply choose tae reject whit they huv tae offer. Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye've produced. Choose life.
Well, ah choose no tae choose life.
There are few brave souls who would dare to not choose life — or, rather, the popular construct of what life ought to be. It’s much easier to buy into what’s left of the American dream. But for those who read Welsh, there is a greater, vicarious freedom through his warped yet loveable characters. No matter how comfortable you get, Welsh is there to show you the possibilities of another life, one that’s simple and pure in spite of its debauchery. It’s (almost) enough to make an American want to move to Scotland.
Genna Rivieccio graduated with a degree in screenwriting and closely identifies with Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard. She has written for pop culture blogs, including Culled Culture, The Toast and Behind the Hype, as well as satire for Missing a Dick and The Burning Bush.
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