the first novel by Scottish writer
Irvine Welsh. It is written in the
form of short chapters narrated in the first person by 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
The novel is set in the mid to late 1980s.
The novel has since achieved a cult status, added to by the global
success of the film based on it, Trainspotting
(1996), directed by
. Welsh later wrote a sequel,
, in 2002. Skagboys
, a novella that will serve as a
prequel, is expected for publication in 2009.
- Mark Renton – the main character and antihero of the novel, Renton is the voice of
(relative) sanity among his group of friends,
many of whom he can not stand. He narrates his daily life – from
supporting his heroin addiction with petty theft to interacting
with the "normal world" – with a cynical, black-humoured eye. He is
capable of fitting in well enough to common society, is relatively
good-looking and of above-average intelligence, but is socially
inept, and uses heroin as a means to withdraw.
- Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson – A slick,
artist, and Renton's oldest friend. He is always on the lookout
for the "perfect scam", despite being perfectly inept at serious
crime. He picks up women with ease and flaunts this quality in
front of his friends, often gloating over his many hook ups. By the
end of the novel, he has become a pimp of young
girls. Essentially, a combination Byronic
hero and villain, he enjoys flaunting
his ability to use heroin semi-casually, then stopping at will, without developing an addiction. In
fact, Sick Boy considers himself above everyone he interacts with
in terms of class, restraint, and moral fibre, despite being one of
the most shallow and callous characters in the novel. When thinking
to himself, he often imagines he is speaking with Sean Connery. While Begbie represents
unavoidable, unanswerable violence to the antihero of the novel, Sick Boy represents cold,
calculated expediency, the type of life that Renton would have if
he had no conscience or moral restraints.
- Daniel "Spud" Murphy – Naive and childlike,
Spud is both the whipping boy and only real source of comfort among
his circle of friends; they feel genuinely protective of him, even
as they repeatedly mock and take advantage of him. Although very
light-fingered, Spud is the only genuinely kind-hearted character
in the novel. He has a soft spot for animals. He uses heroin
because it feels good; he would not be able to achieve anything but
a low position in society even if he was sober and his sense of
decency contrasts sharply with the personalities of his friends,
whose heroin use is sometimes the least objectionable of their
- Francis "Franco" Begbie – A violent sociopath, Begbie terrorises
his "friends" into going along with whatever he says, assaulting and brutalising anyone who angers him.
This violence is reflected in the manner in which he speaks. He is
the only one in the group who does not use heroin and, although he
considers junkies to be the lowest form of life, he is himself
thoroughly addicted to alcohol, amphetamine, and violence. He is part of the YLT
(Young Leith Team) gang.
- 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. His life is thrown into
chaos, however, when he contracts HIV; his
experiences with the disease form the basis of the story in the
chapter "Bad Blood".
- Tommy Laurence – A childhood friend of
Renton's, Tommy does not use heroin and seems completely content to
drink, use speed, play football, and listen
to Iggy Pop. When his girlfriend dumps him,
he seeks to numb the depression by
experimenting with heroin, grudgingly provided by Renton. His
resulting addiction weighs on Renton's conscience, and in part provokes him to seriously
attempt sobriety. Tommy contracts HIV at
the end of the novel.
- Gav "Temps" Temperly – A welfare worker who is friends with
Renton and the other characters.
- Rab "Second Prize" McLaughlin – Washed-up football star turned
hopeless alcoholic. His nickname comes
from his tendency to start fights while drunk and then lose for the
- Billy – Mark Renton's older brother. Billy is killed by the IRA
while stationed in Northern Ireland.
- Lizzy – Tommy's ex-girlfriend.
- Nina – Renton's teenaged cousin. She dresses in black like a
goth, much to the dismay of her
- Alison – Friend of Renton, Spud, and Sick Boy.
- Lesley – Mother of baby Dawn.
- Baby Dawn – Daughter of Lesley and Sick Boy.
- Johnny "Swanny"/"White Swan"/"Mother Superior" Swan –
High-level heroin dealer. Used to be a good friend of Mark
- Michael (Mikey) Forrester – Low-level heroin dealer. Does a lot
of the day-to-day deals with clients of Swanney e.g. in chapter 2,
he deals with a desperate Renton.
- Another "normal" part of the social circle, he has a long-term,
long-distance relationship a girl who lives in London.
- Dianne - A teenage girl who is one of Renton's few sexual
partners. Renton accompanies Dianne to her flat, where he discovers
that she is clearly the more experienced partner. Renton wakes up
the next morning and groggily meets a couple whom he believes are
Dianne's flat-mates; they are in fact her parents, as she is only
14 years old.
- Alan Venters - An HIV-positive rapist whom
Davie hates to the point of obsession (for reasons gradually
revealed in "Bad Blood".)
- Kelly - Renton's one-time waitress/student girlfriend.
- Sharon - Billy's girlfriend, and the mother of his child
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.
Each character narrates differently, in a fashion comparable to
representative of psychological
. 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
narrated by Renton are written with Scots
dialogue terms spelled phonetically,
which conveys the character's accent and use of Scots, while
Davie's chapters ("Bad Blood", "Traditional Sunday Breakfast") are
narrated in Scottish English
dialogue 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 movie it inspired, the novel's plot is not linear
. Characters are often introduced without
and without any initially
obvious connection either to the core group of characters or to the
Section 1: Kicking
The Skag Boys, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mother
- Narrated by Renton. Mark and Simon (aka Sick
Boy) are watching a Jean-Claude
movie when they decide to go buy heroin from Johnny
Swan (aka Mother Superior) since they are both feeling symptoms of
. They cook up with Raymie (who
kisses Sick Boy on the mouth) and Alison (who states that heroin
"beats any meat injection in the whole fucking world"). After being
informed that he should go see Kelly, who has just had an abortion
, Renton instead eagerly returns home to
watch the rest of his movie.
Junk Dilemmas No. 63
by Renton. A short (less than a page) piece comparing his high to
an internal sea, while noting: "more short-term sea, more long-term
The First Day of the Edinburgh Festival
by Renton. 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. He acquires opium suppositories
which after a heavy bout of diarrhea he must recover from a public
toilet (a notable scene recreated for the film) showing just how
far a junkie will go for a hit.
- Narrated by Sick Boy. 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
self-glorifying, nihilistic diatribe.
Growing Up in Public
- Third person narration
following Nina, Mark's cousin. Nina is with her family after her
Uncle Andy's recent death. She initially feigns indifference but
then breaks down without even realising it.
Victory on New Year's Day
- Third person narration
following Stevie. At a party consisting of almost all the key
characters in the novel, Stevie can not stop thinking about his
girlfriend who he has fallen out with. They optimistically reunite
at the train station following a couple of phone calls.
It Goes without Saying
- Narrated by Renton.
Lesley's baby, Dawn, has died. Though it appears to be a cot death,
it can also have been from neglect. The Skag Boys are uncomfortable
and unsure of how to respond to the tragedy as Lesley cries
hysterically. However, Simon/Sick Boy becomes notably more
emotional and distressed than the others and eventually breaks down
and cries as well, stating he is kicking heroin for good and
clearly implying Dawn was his daughter. Mark wants to comfort his
friend, but is unable to form the words 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" and proving the harsh truth that no matter what; junk comes
first for them all.
Junk Dilemmas No. 64
by Renton. Mark's mother is knocking on his door while crying. He
ignores her pleas and cooks up a shot. He feels guilty about
letting her down, but continues to use drugs anyway.
- Narrated by Rab "Second Prize"
McLaughlin. Second Prize and Tommy are in the pub
and Tommy confronts a man who is openly punching his
own girlfriend. They are shocked to find the woman supports her
boyfriend instead of her
would-be liberators by digging her nails into Tommy's face,
inciting a brawl.
- Varied narration. (third
person while together in the pub, first person for each interview.)
Spud and Renton both have a job
for the same job, but neither of them wants the job
as they would prefer to be unemployed
Renton pretends to be an upper-class heroin addict, while Spud
and is incoherent.
Section 2: Relapsing
Scotland Takes Drugs in Psychic Defence
by Tommy. He goes to an Iggy Pop gig on the same day as his
girlfriend's birthday. He spends the entire chapter using speed and
alcohol. The chapter's title refers to an Iggy Pop lyric
, which Tommy vehemently affirms.
- Narrated by Renton. Focuses on his
"friendship" with Begbie. 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 and it hits someone, 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. Renton concludes his thoughts on Begbie saying "He
really is a cunt ay the first order. Nae doubt about that. The
problem is, he's a mate n aw. What kin ye dae?"
- Narrated by Begbie. Continues
the theme of the last chapter. Begbie recalls an ordinary story of
being in the pub and staring at a man whom he wanted to
- Narrated by Renton. Tommy comes
round to Renton's flat (shortly after Renton injected a shot into
, 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
Traditional Sunday Breakfast
- Narrated by Davie.
Davie has woken up at the house of his girlfriend's mother in a
puddle of urine
, 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.)
Junk Dilemmas No. 65
by Renton. Mark has cooked up with Spud and stresses how cold he
is. Spud is completely unresponsive and Mark thinks he may be dead,
seeming unsurprised if he is.
Grieving and Mourning in Port Sunshine
person narration. 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.
Section 3: Kicking Again
- Narrated by Begbie. Begbie and Renton have
pulled an unknown crime and have decided to lay low in London.
chapter covers their train journey.
Na Na and Other Nazis
Narrated by Spud, who has managed to kick heroin. He 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
saying slogans such as "ain't no black in the Union
Jack". 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
The First Shag in Ages
- Third person narration.
Renton has kicked heroin and is restless. He ends up picking up a
girl at a nightclub, Dianne, and sleeping with her, unaware that
she is only fourteen. He is later forced to repeatedly lie to her
parents at breakfast the following morning.
Strolling Through the Meadows
- Narrated by 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
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 Simons dead baby Dawn. He also notably states
"squirrels are lovely and free. Maybe that's why Renton hates them"
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
- Narrated by Renton. Renton and
Spud are in court for stealing books. Renton gets a suspended
sentence due to his attempts at rehabilitation, while Spud is given
a short prison sentence. Renton becomes increasingly despairing at
the "celebrations" and the people around him.
Junk Dilemmas No. 66
extremely short passage, assumably narrated by Renton. Renton
reflects that his heroin hit has removed his ability to move.
- Narrated by Sick Boy. Using an
, Sick Boy shoots a Bull Terrier
, which then attacks its skinhead
owner, giving Sick Boy the excuse he needs
to kill the dog. He delights when a police officer arrives and
informs Sick Boy that he will be recommended for a
Searching for the Inner Man
- Narrated by Renton.
An important chapter in which Renton reflects on why he used heroin
after seeing several psychiatrists, all of whom have different
unrelenting approaches to clinical
taken from various 20th century psychologists.
Renton's cynicism has stopped him from forming meaningful
relationships with anyone, and he is unable to get any enjoyment
out of anything. It is also revealed that Renton had a catatonic
younger brother who died several years before.
- Narrated by Renton. Renton relapses
and has to suffer heroin withdrawal at his parents' house, where
his hallucinations of dead baby Dawn, the television programme he
is watching, and the lecture provided by his father interlink. He
is later visited by Sick Boy and goes out to a pub with his
parents, who are unnervingly enthusiastic.
Bang to Rites
- Narrated by Renton. Renton's brother Billy
dies in Northern
Ireland with the British
Renton, obviously under the influence of drugs,
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
(commencing with an internal rant against his father's family, who
are largely bigoted Orangemen
Junk Dilemmas No. 67
Section 5: Exile
- Narrated by Renton. Renton finds
himself stranded in London with no place to sleep. He tries to fall
asleep in an all-night porno
but there he meets an Italian
named Gi, who makes a pass at him. Renton says he's not gay and
after Gi apologetically offers him a place to sleep, Renton takes
him up on the offer. However, in the middle of the night, Renton
wakes to find Gi masturbating over him and his semen on his cheeks
and face. Renton reacts violently, but then takes pity
on the sobbing old man. He then decides to take Gi
to a late night 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 another man named
Antonio and after their affair was revealed the two suffered
extremely violent homophobic abuse, leading his lover Antonio to
kill himself. At the party, Renton notes sadly how frightened and
confused Gi looks and thinks to himself he may end up having sex
with him out of pity.
- Narrated by Davie. Davie, now
HIV-positive, takes a particularly horrible revenge upon the man he
suspects raped his girlfriend and gave her HIV, leading to his own
contraction of the disease. Davie befriends the man, and when the
man is on his deathbed Davie tells him that he just savagely raped
and violently murdered the man's 6 year old son. After the man's
death, Davie reveals to the reader that he never actually hurt the
boy and the whole story was made up.
There is a Light That Never Goes Out
person narration. After a marathon 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.
- Narrated by Kelly. Kelly and Alison
create a scene in front of a construction site by getting into an
argument with some construction workers. They meet some backpacking
women and the foursome end up returning to Kelly's where they get
high and their new found friends reveal they are in fact lesbians
from New Zealand. The girls have a general laugh about and then
notice Renton has arrived to visit Kelly. In her high state, she
and her friends pick on Renton, who reacts in a surprisingly
understanding and gentle manner, taking it with good humour and
leading Kelly to appreciate this. However, she ends noting that she
feels men are only alright in the minority when they are on their
The Elusive Mr Hunt
- Third person narration. 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 "Has anyone seen 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" 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 realises she
has tears in her eyes. At first he thinks she is being silly and
shouldn't take the laughter to heart, but then he recognises the
laughter from the men in the pub isn't friendly. "It's not funny
laughter. This is lynch mob laughter. How was ah tae know, he
thinks. How the fuck was ah tae know?"
Section 6: Home
Easy Money for the Professionals
- Narrated by
Spud. Spud, Begbie, and a teenager have engaged in a criminal job,
exhibiting Begbie's paranoia.
- Narrated by Renton. Gav tells Renton
the story of how Matty died.
Memories of Matty
- Third person narration. The
group attends Matty's funeral, where they reflect on his
Straight Dilemmas No. 1
Narrated by Renton. 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, Renton muses on the idea that they
have no clue what true drug addiction entails.
- Narrated by Kelly. Kelly is working
as a waitress in an Edinburgh restaurant and gets some revenge on
some unpleasant customers.
Trainspotting at Leith Central Station
by Renton. 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.
A Leg-Over Situation
- Narrated by Renton. Renton
goes to see a previous drug dealer, Johnny Swann, who has had his
leg amputated due to heroin use.
Winter in West Granton
- Narrated by Renton.
Renton goes to visit Tommy, who is dying of AIDS
A Scottish Soldier
- Third person narration.
Johnny Swann is reduced to begging, pretending to be a soldier who
lost his leg in the Falklands War
Swan is quite optimistic and exclaims that he is making more money
begging rather than dealing heroin.
Section 7: Exit
Station to Station
- 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.
As the movie and sequel, Porno
both imply, Spud is compensated.
The novel is basically a series of short
. Each chapter focuses on a given event and does not
necessarily contribute to Renton's eventual betrayal. For example,
some chapters focus on Renton's sexual morality
: in one chapter an old man masturbates
onto him while he is sleeping, and
in another he has sex with his dead brother's pregnant fiancée in
the bathroom after his brother's funeral.
Welsh explores in depth the absence of a true Scottish national identity
. Renton displays a
great self-loathing of his country, which he views as a nation
colonised by the English.
Welsh suggests that the idealised image of "Scotland the Brave" is
a false heritage, a sentimentalised vision of Scotland perpetuated
by events such as the Edinburgh festival. Welsh also attacks
description of his father's Protestant
However, drug abuse (both heroin and alcohol) is certainly the main
issue dealt with. The novel explores what causes drug abuse and
what sustains it in its many forms. Many chapters focus on Renton's
continual attempts to kick the habit and their accompanying
relapses. The novel ends rather ambiguously, with Renton betraying
his friends and heading for Amsterdam with money they had all
acquired from a drug deal.
The novel refers to bands that influenced Welsh's writing,
including David Bowie
, Joy Division
, the Pogues
, Lou Reed
, Frank Zappa
and especially Iggy Pop
all the characters idolise. Sick Boy's nickname comes from the
lyrics of the song "Death Trip" by The Stooges, and also from the
character's amorality and sexual perversions.
Interpretations of the title
The title is a reference to an episode where Begbie and Renton meet "an auld drunkard" in the disused Leith Central railway station, which they are visiting to use as a toilet. He asks them (in a weak attempt at a joke) if they are "trainspottin", as Renton is training a stream of urine against an old stone. Trains have not run to Leith for many years. This is symbolic of the way that Renton searches for inner peace through heroin addiction, where he has not found it, just as there are no trains in the disused station and he treats the area with contempt. The disused station is also symbolic of the stagnant and unchanging life Renton lives in Leith as a heroin addict.
It could also be said that that the idea that pair were
trainspotting at an abandoned station refers to what Renton sees as
the hopelessness and futility of a typical existence in Leith, an
issue that is the basis of the famous "Choose Life" monologue at
the beginning of the film adaptation and in a section near the end
of the novel. Through the eyes of the central character Renton,
much of Leith is trainspotting, waiting in stagnation and
hopelessness for a better life that will never come due to the low
socio-economic standing of the area and a lack of a strong national
identity, with many individuals dealing with this fact through
either drugs or violence. As they walk away from the drunk, Renton
realises the drunk is Begbie's father.
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
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
(BFI) in its list of Top 100 British films
of all time.
It also brought Welsh's book to an international cinema audience
and added to the phenomenal popularity of the novel.
The novel was an immediate success. It was longlisted for the 1993
(and was apparently
rejected for the shortlist after "offending the sensibilities of
two female judges").
- ISBN 0-393-31480-4 (paperback,
- ISBN 0-393-05724-0 (hardcover)
- ISBN 0-7493-2173-3 (paperback)
- ISBN 0-7493-9606-7 (paperback) (1994)
- 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.
- Bookworm - The Scotsman - Prequelspotting
- Trainspotting British
Film Institute (BFI).
- The Contemporary British Novel, by James Acheson,
Sarah C. E. Ross. Published by Edinburgh University Press, 2005.
ISBN 0748618953. Page 43-44.
- Irvine Welsh - Biography
- Screening Trainspotting Irvine Welsh,
by Aaron Kelly. Published by Manchester University Press, 2005.
ISBN 0719066514.Page 68.
- Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting: A Reader's Guide, by
Robert A. Morace. Published by Continuum International Publishing
Group, 2001. ISBN 082645237X.
- Working-class Fiction: From Chartism to Trainspotting,
by Ian Haywood. Published by Northcote House in association with
the British Council, 1997. ISBN 0746307802.