Trainspotting (novel)

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First edition
AuthorIrvine Welsh
LanguageEnglish, Scots
PublisherSecker & Warburg
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)
823/.914 20
LC ClassPR6073.E47 T73 1994
Followed byPorno
Marabou Stork Nightmares 

Trainspotting is the first novel by Scottish writer Irvine Welsh, first published in 1993. It takes the form of a collection of short stories, written in either Scots, Scottish English or British English, revolving around various residents of Leith, Edinburgh who either use heroin, are friends of the core group of heroin users, or engage in destructive activities that are effectively addictions. The novel is set in the late 1980s[1] and has been described by The Sunday Times as "the voice of punk, grown up, grown wiser and grown eloquent".[2]

The novel has since achieved a cult status and served as the basis for the film Trainspotting (1996), directed by Danny Boyle.[3] A sequel called Porno was published in 2002. A prequel called Skagboys was published in April 2012.[4]


  • Mark "Rent Boy" Renton – The novel's protagonist and most frequent narrator, Renton is the voice of reason among his group of friends, many of whom he dislikes. He narrates his daily life – from supporting his heroin addiction with dole money and petty theft to interacting with the "normal world" – with a cynical approach. He is intelligent and capable of participating in mainstream society, but he is misanthropic and depressed, and uses heroin to give purpose to his life as well as for hedonistic purposes.
  • Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson – A promiscuous, amoral con artist and one of Renton's close friends. He is often on the lookout for potential scams and has little respect for the many women he seduces. Sick Boy swears off heroin after the death of the infant Dawn, implied to be his daughter, who asphyxiates while her mother Lesley and Sick Boy are on a heroin binge.
  • Daniel "Spud" MurphyNaive and childlike, Spud is both the whipping boy and only real source of comfort among Renton's circle of friends, who feel protective of him even as they take advantage of him. Spud is kind, sensitive, and loves animals. Spud is sent to Saughton prison for a section of the novel for petty theft.
  • Francis "Franco" Begbie – A violent psychopath, Begbie bullies his "friends" into going along with whatever he says, assaulting and intimidating anyone who angers him. He expresses intense loyalty to his friends even though he considers junkies to be the lowest form of life, despite being addicted to alcohol and the adrenaline rush of violence.
  • Davie Mitchell – Another Leith native and acquaintance of Renton. Davie is a university graduate and holds down a decent job. His life is thrown into chaos when he contracts HIV. He narrates the chapters "Bad Blood" and "Traditional Sunday Breakfast".
  • Tommy Lawrence – A childhood friend of Renton's, Tommy asks Renton for heroin to try after his girlfriend dumps him, which Renton reluctantly provides. Tommy's resulting addiction, illness and death weigh on Renton's conscience.
  • Rab "Second Prize" McLaughlin – A friend of the main group, who is often inebriated and gets into frequent fights while drunk, which he always loses. Second Prize had a promising career as a pro footballer for Manchester United, but he was fired from the team after a few years because of his drinking problem. His alcoholism later costs him his girlfriend Carol.


The novel is split into seven sections. The first six sections contain multiple chapters from various perspectives; the final section contains one chapter. The novel's plot is not linear.

Most chapters are narrated in first-person, stream-of-consciousness style in some combination of Scots dialect and Standard English. Some chapters are written from a third-person omniscient stance to convey the actions and thoughts of several characters in a scene.

Plot summary[edit]

Section 1: Kicking[edit]

Mark and Simon (a.k.a. Sick Boy) are watching a Jean-Claude Van Damme video when they decide to go buy heroin from Johnny Swan (also called "Mother Superior") since they are both feeling symptoms of withdrawal. They cook up with Raymie and Alison. After being informed that he should go and see Kelly, who has just had an abortion, Renton goes home to finish his video instead.

Mark initially makes an attempt to come off heroin by acquiring a bare room and all the things he will require when coming down. When withdrawal begins to set in, however, he resolves to get another hit to ease the decline. Unable to find any heroin, he acquires opium suppositories which, after a heavy bout of diarrhoea, he must recover from a public lavatory. Simon attempts to pick up girls while being annoyed by Mark, who wants to watch videos. Sick Boy loses Renton and launches into an internal monologue that is self-glorifying and nihilistic.

The chapter "It Goes Without Saying" opens with the death of an infant, Dawn, whose mother Lesley is a heroin addict and acquaintance of the main characters. The cause of death is unclear; characters speculate that it may have been a cot death or a death from neglect. The Skag Boys are unsure of how to respond. However, Sick Boy becomes notably more emotional and distressed than the others and eventually breaks down as well, stating he is kicking heroin for good. Simon does not explicitly state that he was the child's father, playing to the title of the story. Mark wants to comfort his friend, but is unsure how and simply cooks a shot for himself in order to deal with the situation. A sobbing Lesley asks him to also cook her up a hit, which Mark does but makes sure he injects himself before her, stating the action "goes without saying".

Section 2: Relapsing[edit]

After an argument with his girlfriend Carol, Second Prize meets Tommy in a pub, and Tommy confronts a man who is openly punching his own girlfriend. They are shocked to find the woman supports her abusive boyfriend instead of her would-be liberators by digging her nails into Tommy's face, inciting a brawl. Second Prize attacks a man who had been laughing at the scene earlier, demanding, "It's a big joke tae you, eh?" While the couple slips out unnoticed, Tommy and Second Prize find themselves taking the blame for the whole affair from the pub locals.

Renton, Begbie and their girlfriends meet up for a drink before going to a party, but it ends when Begbie throws a glass off a balcony, hitting someone and splitting open their head. After this, Begbie smiles at Renton and proceeds to announce to the party he will find whoever threw that glass before attacking random innocent people in the pub and setting off a huge pub brawl.

Tommy comes round to Renton's flat (shortly after Renton injected a shot into his penis, hence the title) after being dumped by his girlfriend. Tommy asks Renton to give him some heroin, which he reluctantly does. This sets off Tommy's gradual decline into addiction, HIV/AIDS, and later, death.

Davie wakes up at the house of his girlfriend's mother in a puddle of urine, vomit and faeces, after a night of drinking. Embarrassed, he attempts to make off with the sheets and wash them himself. However, Gail's mother starts tugging at the sheets, he resists, and the contents fly all over the family, their kitchen, and their breakfast. (In the film, this unfortunate event is attributed to Spud.) In the following chapter, Mark has been lying in a heroin-induced daze with someone (whom he ascertains to be Spud), wondering how long they've been there and noting that it could be days since anybody said anything. Renton stresses how cold he is to Spud. Spud is completely unresponsive and Mark thinks he may be dead, seeming unsurprised if he is.

Renton's brother Billy and his friends Lenny, Naz Peasbo, and Jackie are waiting for their friend Granty to arrive for a game of cards, as he is holding the money pot. They later find out that Granty is dead and his girlfriend has disappeared with the money, prompting them to beat Jackie, whom they knew to have been sleeping with her. Later, Begbie and Lexo have pulled an unknown crime and, so Begbie decides to lie low in London with Renton. The chapter covers their train journey.

Section 3: Kicking Again[edit]

Spud manages to kick heroin, and visits his grandmother, where his mixed-race uncle Dode is staying. He recounts the trouble that Dode has had with racism growing up, particularly an event when he and Spud went to a pub and were soon assaulted by white power skinheads. This abuse led to a fight, which left Dode hospitalised, where Spud visits him. "I've had worse in the past and I'll have worse in the future," Dode tells Spud, who begs him not to say such things. "He looks at us like I'll never understand and I know he's probably right."

Renton has kicked heroin and is restless. He ends up picking up a girl at a nightclub, Dianne, unaware that she is only fourteen. He is later forced to repeatedly lie to her parents at breakfast the following morning. Despite his guilt and discomfort, he sleeps with Dianne again when she shows up at his flat. Spud, Renton and Sick Boy take some ecstasy and stroll to The Meadows where an excited Sick Boy and Renton try to kill a squirrel but stop after Spud becomes upset by their actions towards the animal. He states to the reader that you can't love yourself if you hurt animals as it's wrong and compares their innocence to that of Simon's dead baby Dawn. He also notably states that squirrels are "lovely" and "free" and that "that's maybe what Rents can't stand" indicating Mark envies those he feels are completely unbound and free. Mark, in reaction to Spud's distress and disappointment in his actions, is clearly ashamed and Spud forgives him quickly and the pair embrace, before Simon humorously breaks them up by stating they should either "go fuck each other in the trees" or help him find Begbie and Matty.

Section 4: Blowing It[edit]

Renton and Spud are in court for stealing books. Renton gets a suspended sentence owing to his attempts at rehabilitation, while Spud is sentenced to ten months in prison. Those attending the hearing relocate to a nearby pub to celebrate. Renton becomes increasingly despairing of his situation and the people around him and slips out the pub's back door unnoticed with the intent of going to Swanney's for a hit, "to get us over this long, hard day."

Renton relapses and has to suffer heroin withdrawal at his parents' house, where he experiences hallucinations of dead baby Dawn, the television programme he is watching, and the lecture provided by his father. He is later visited by Sick Boy and goes out to a pub with his parents, whose unnerving enthusiasm acts as a veneer for their authoritative treatment. Mark is confronted with the tedium and triviality of "normal" life, and it is hinted that he will begin using again.

Renton's brother Billy dies in Northern Ireland with the British Army. Renton attends the funeral; there, he almost starts a fight with some of his father's Unionist relatives, and ends up having sex with Billy's pregnant girlfriend in the toilets. Demonstrating some topicality, Renton discusses the hypocrisy of Unionism and the British in Northern Ireland.

Renton reflects on the depravity of the world, concluding that deprivation is "relative", and concludes that there are never any dilemmas with junk, and that the ones that there are materialise only when the junk "runs oot".

Section 5: Exile[edit]

Renton is himself stranded in London with no place to sleep. He tries to fall asleep in an all-night porno theatre, where an old man named Gi makes a pass at him. Renton says he is not gay and Gi apologizes, then offers him a place to sleep, which Renton accepts. That night, Renton wakes to find Gi masturbating over him and has semen on his cheeks and face. Renton reacts violently, but then takes pity on the sobbing old man. In the morning he takes Gi to breakfast and a party. On the way, Gi tells him the tragedy of his life — how he had a wife and children who he cared about deeply, yet he could not help falling in love with his brother in law Antonio. After their affair was revealed the two suffered extremely violent homophobic abuse at the hands of Antonio's brothers, leading his lover to kill himself. At the party, Renton notes sadly how frightened and confused Gi looks whilst lamenting the behaviour of the drugged and sexed up party revellers. The chapter concludes with Renton considering sex with Gi.

After a binge drinking and partying session, Renton, Spud, Begbie, Gav, Alison and others venture out for another drink and then something to eat. Spud and others reflect upon their sex lives. The chapter is named after a song by The Smiths, in whose lyrics Spud finds solace after his failed attempt at making a pass at a woman.

Sick Boy prank calls Kelly's pub where she works from across the street. He asks her to look for a "Mark Hunt" and only after she has called the name out ("This boy is wantin Mark Hunt") around the pub a few times does she realise how much the men in the pub are laughing at her and how the name sounds like "my cunt" when said in a Scottish accent causing her a great deal of embarrassment. Renton is present in the pub at the time and laughing along with the other men at Kelly, until he realizes the laughter from the men in the pub is hostile.

Section 6: Home[edit]

Spud, Begbie, and a teenager have engaged in a criminal robbery. Spud recounts the crime and comments on Begbie's paranoia and how the teenager is likely to get ripped off by the pair. Gav tells Renton the story of how Matty died of toxoplasmosis after attempting to rekindle his relationship with his ex using a kitten.

The group attends Matty's funeral, where they reflect on his downfall, and what may have caused it. Renton finds himself at a small gathering in a London flat surrounded by casual drug users. While the others at the party indulge in joints containing opium and try to berate Renton as a 'suit and tie' light-weight, Renton muses on the idea that they have no clue what true drug addiction entails. Kelly is working as a waitress in an Edinburgh restaurant and gets revenge on some unpleasant customers.

Renton returns to Leith for Christmas. He meets Begbie, who beats up an innocent man after having seen his alcoholic father in the disused Leith Central railway station. He visits a former drug dealer, Johnny Swann, who has had his leg amputated as a result of heroin use. Later he visits Tommy, who is dying of AIDS.

Johnny Swann is reduced to begging, pretending to be a soldier who lost his leg in the Falklands War. Swann is quite optimistic and says he is making more money begging rather than dealing heroin.

Section 7: Exit[edit]

Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie, Spud and Second Prize go to London to engage in a low-key heroin deal and see a Pogues gig. The book ends with Renton stealing the cash and going to Amsterdam. Renton thinks to himself that he will send Spud his cut, as he is the only 'innocent' party.

Stage adaptation[edit]

Soon after publication, the book was adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson. The stage version inspired the subsequent film, and regularly toured the UK in the mid-1990s. This adaptation starred Ewen Bremner and later Tam Dean Burn as Renton.

The Los Angeles production of Trainspotting won the 2002 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Direction,[5] and the 2002 LA Weekly Theater Award for Direction,[6] for director Roger Mathey.

In 2013 In Your Face Theatre and Seabright Productions staged a new immersive production of Gibson's adaptation rebranded as Trainspotting Live. Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin, this production has gone on to sell out at three Edinburgh Festival Fringes and played to critical acclaim in London, on several UK tours and in New York City.

Film adaptation[edit]

The film was directed by Danny Boyle, with an adapted screenplay written by John Hodge. It starred Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner. Irvine Welsh made a cameo appearance as the drug dealer Mikey Forrester. The film has been ranked 10th by the British Film Institute (BFI) in its list of Top 100 British films of all time.[7] It also brought Welsh's book to an international cinema audience and added to the phenomenal popularity of the novel.[8]


"Trainspotting" was longlisted for the 1993 Booker Prize (and was apparently rejected for the shortlist after "offending the sensibilities of two judges"[9]).

Welsh claimed that the book had sold over one million copies in the UK by 2015, and been translated into thirty languages.[10]


  1. ^ Irvine Welsh plans Trainspotting prequel The Sunday Times. 16-03-2008. Retrieved on 07-10-2010
  2. ^ Sunday Times.[full citation needed]
  3. ^ Petrie, Duncan J. (2004). Contemporary Scottish Fictions : Film, Television and the Novel. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN 0-7486-1789-2.
  4. ^ A fourth book in the series, Dead Men’s Trousers, was released in March 2018.Bookworm - The Scotsman - Prequelspotting
  5. ^ Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle 2000-2002 Awards (website)
  6. ^ Some Enchanted Evening: The 24th Annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards from the L.A. Weekly (website)
  7. ^ Trainspotting British Film Institute (BFI).
  8. ^ Acheson, James; Ross, Sarah C. E. (2005). The Contemporary British Novel. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 0-7486-1895-3.
  9. ^ Irvine Welsh - Biography
  10. ^ "Irvine Welsh: 'I was a heroin addict – then I found buy-to-let'". The Daily Telegraph.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kelly, Aaron (2005). "Screening Trainspotting". Irvine Welsh. Manchester University Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-7190-6651-4.
  • Morace, Robert A. (2001). Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting: A Reader's Guide. Continuum International. ISBN 0-8264-5237-X.
  • Haywood, Ian (1997). Working-class Fiction: From Chartism to Trainspotting. Northcote House in association with the British Council. ISBN 0-7463-0780-2.

External links[edit]