Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Trainspotting - Irvine Welsh

I've never watched the movie Trainspotting, even though most people of my generation did. I'm not in a position to make a comparison between the book and the movie, but Wikipedia does. I have heard the soundtrack (the two volumes) which I think is awesome, even if its music is not the same the book mentions. This makes complete commercial sense: the movie is oriented towards the generation that came of age in the second half of the 1990's, so people like Blur and Underworld had to be there instead of bands like Status Quo, T'Pau, or Pogues, which are constantly mentioned in the book, set in the late years of Margaret Thatcher's government (there's a mention of the poll tax). I think Iggy Pop is the only guy who is mentioned in the book and appears in the soundtrack too.

I did read, however, Welsh's Marabou Stork Nightmares in Spanish (I'll be reading it again in English and posting about it soon) and I thought it was one of the best of my teenage years. I wanted to read Trainspotting for a long time, but I had never found the time to do it until recently.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Two things weigh against it: first, it is written phonetically in order to make it sound "Scottish" enough. This makes the first 50 pages (out of 345) almost impossible to read, at least for a non-native English speaker. The fact that different parts of the book are narrated by different characters with different "accents" compounds this problem. For 50 pages, I thought that the main character had contracted HIV, only to realize that he had been safe and alive in London, thank goodness. Second, most of the book is written using stream-of-consciousness, the technique created (according to the Irish) or popularized (according to the rest of the World) by James Joyce. Stream-of-consciousness, no matter who created it, destroyed literature, which takes some elements of reality and simplifies it to make it digestible. By trying to replicate thoughts verbatim, stream-of-consciousness defeats that purpose.

On the other hand, the parts of this book that I was able to understand are really good: it made me cry at one point, which had not happened since I read Vargas Llosa's Aventuras de la niña mala, and it made me promise to never live in the UK, particularly Scotland. I think, though, that the book works better as a collection of short stories than as a novel given the multiplicity of narrating voices and the fact that the book is not supposed to follow a chronological order.

I guess that my recommendation is to read this book in one's native language, or spend a couple of months in Leith to realize that "ah" actually means "I" since the beginning of the book. But then, on the other hand, a translated version of Trainspotting would be like a new book. You can't really replicate a cockney accent in other language than English.

I would say that the optimal solution would be to watch the movie with subtitles, but then you would miss scenes like this one, apparently absent of the film, where a character gets a shot of heroin through his penis:

Probably the comprehension of the book is no problem at all. The book was very successful across the English-speaking countries and so was the movie across the World. From a statistic and demographic point of view, the people who are reading this blog (or any blog) have either read the book or seen the movie.

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