Trainspotting (novel)

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First edition
Author Irvine Welsh
Country United Kingdom
Language English, Urban Scots
Publisher Secker & Warburg
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback and paperback)
Pages 344 pp
ISBN 0-7493-9606-7
OCLC 34832527
823/.914 20
LC Class PR6073.E47 T73 1994
Followed by Porno

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 implicitly portrayed as addictions that serve the same function as heroin addiction. The novel is set in the late 1980s.[1]

Famously described as "the voice of punk, grown up, grown wiser and grown eloquent",[2] the novel has since achieved a cult status, added to by the global success of the film based on it, Trainspotting (1996), directed by Danny Boyle.[3] Welsh later wrote a sequel, Porno, in 2002. Skagboys, a novel that serves as a prequel, was published in April 2012.[4]


  • Mark Renton – the main character and antihero of the novel, Renton is the voice of sanity among his group of friends, many of whom he internally hates. 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 and cheeky-chappy sense of humour. He is capable of fitting in with mainstream society, but is misanthropic and depressed, and uses heroin both as a means to relax and to give meaning to his life. Despite his dislike of animals, he is a vegetarian, and unlike most of his circle is an avid reader and interested in learning – at one point being arrested for shoplifting political theory books.
  • Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson – a suave, duplicitous, amoral con artist, and Renton's best friend. He picks up women with ease on account of his practiced charm and boyish looks, flaunting this quality in front of his friends. He is always on the lookout for potential scams, and despite his nonchalant, charming facade, he judges everyone around him with sneering disregard. Displaying many of the qualities of a sociopath, he becomes even more amoral after the death of his daughter Dawn, who asphyxiates while her mother Lesley and Sick Boy are on a heroin binge. He is more disciplined in terms of substance use than Renton, and Renton believes he gets pleasure from reminding him of the fact.
  • Daniel "Spud" Murphy – naive and childlike, Spud is both the whipping boy and only real source of comfort among Renton's circle of friends; they feel genuinely protective of him, even as they repeatedly critise and take advantage of him. Although a petty thief, Spud is notably more caring than his friends. However, he lacks the confidence and intellect to improve his life, and never seems to question whether his friends should remain his friends, even when their behaviour angers him. Spud represents innocence in cruel surroundings; he uses heroin because it feels good and because he struggles to cope with adult life when sober. He suffers from kleptomania and is sentenced to eight months in Saughton Prison midway through the novel for petty theft.
  • Francis "Franco" Begbie – psychopathic and violent with a short temper, Begbie intimidates everyone around him into submission, assaulting both acquaintances and strangers at the slightest provocation. He simultaneously feels intense loyalty to his friends, seemingly oblivious to the fact that none of them like him. He looks down on heroin addiction despite being himself an abuser of alcohol and amphetamine, and is described as being addicted to his own rage. His source of income isn't fully explained, although he is implied to be an experienced burglar. He is part of the Capital City Service football hooligan firm.
  • Davie Mitchell – the "everyman" of the novel, Davie seems to be the most normal of the characters. Unlike the others, he is a university graduate and holds down a decent job, and represents, to a degree, the "straight life" most of the characters try to avoid. When he contracts HIV, he plots and executes a cruel revenge on a personal enemy.
  • Tommy Laurence – a childhood friend of Renton's, Tommy does not use heroin and is physically fit, and seems content to drink, use speed, play football, and listen to Iggy Pop. These narrow horizons cause his downfall; when his girlfriend dumps him, he numbs the depression by experimenting with heroin, half-heartedly provided by Renton. He becomes addicted and later contracts HIV, weighing on Renton's conscience. His surname is changed to MacKenzie in the film version.
  • Rab "Second Prize" McLaughlin – a peripheral friend of the main group, a miserable alcoholic whose nickname comes from his tendency to drunkenly start fights that he always loses. As a teen his drinking ruined a promising football career, and he has never moved on from the failure. His girlfriend Carol eventually breaks up with him due to his near-constant drunkenness. He travels to London in the conclusion of the book with the others, and spends the whole time inebriated.
  • Matty Connell – a nihilistic heroin addict and childhood friend of the main group. Possibly the most selfish, deadpan junkie of the group, he serves to epitomize the thieving, self destroying addict with poor health and hygiene which the others are in even greater danger of becoming. His tragic death later in the book is given to Tommy in the film version.


The novel is split up into seven sections: the first six contain multiple chapters of varying length and differing focus. The novel's origins in short fiction are still visible though no segment or chapter is wholly independent of the others. The majority of the stories are narrated by the novel's central protagonist, Mark Renton.

Each character narrates differently, in a fashion comparable to stream-of-consciousness or representative of psychological realism. For example, Spud will refer to people internally as "cats" (Begbie is a jungle cat, while he himself is a house cat), and Sick Boy will occasionally entertain an inner-dialogue between himself and Sean Connery. Chapters narrated by Renton are written with Scots dialect terms spelled phonetically to better convey the character's accent and pronunciation to an audience acquainted with Standard English, while Davie's chapters ("Bad Blood", "Traditional Sunday Breakfast") are narrated in Scottish English with dialect also appearing phonetically. Other chapters are written from a third-person omniscient stance (in Standard English) to cover the actions and thoughts of different characters simultaneously. For example, "The First Shag in Ages" covers Spud and Renton's outing to a nightclub where they meet Dianne and her pal, followed by Renton's return to Dianne's and the awkward breakfast that ensues, all the while revealing what each character thinks of the other.

Unlike the film it inspired, the novel's plot follows a nonlinear narrative. Characters are often introduced without backstory and without any initially obvious connection either to the core group of characters or to the junkie, slacker lifestyle.

Stage adaptation[edit]

Soon after publication, the book was adapted for the stage. 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.

The play was revived by the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow in 2016, where it received a favourable reception from audiences and critics. [7]

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Trainspotting (film)

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.[8] It also brought Welsh's book to an international cinema audience and added to the phenomenal popularity of the novel.[9]


It was longlisted for the 1993 Booker Prize (and was apparently rejected for the shortlist after "offending the sensibilities of two judges"[10]).



  1. ^ Irvine Welsh plans Trainspotting prequel The Sunday Times. 16-03-2008. Retrieved on 07-10-2010
  2. ^ Sunday Times.
  3. ^ Contemporary Scottish Fictions--Film, Television, and the Novel: Film, Television and the Novel, by Duncan J. Petrie. Published by Edinburgh University Press, 2004.ISBN 0748617892. Page 101-102.
  4. ^ 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. ^ Guardian review
  8. ^ Trainspotting British Film Institute (BFI).
  9. ^ The Contemporary British Novel, by James Acheson, Sarah C. E. Ross. Published by Edinburgh University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-7486-1895-3. Page 43-44.
  10. ^ Irvine Welsh – Biography

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]