The boys are back in town. John King enjoys a powerful sequel to Trainspotting


Irvine Welsh <em>Jonathan Cape, 484pp, £10 </em>

ISBN 022406181X

Porno is Irvine Welsh's seventh work of fiction, and the third in a series of long, richly observed novels dealing with subjects such as power (Filth), culture (Glue), and now rampant capitalism and its nonce-like big brother globalisation. The style is free-form and the content freethinking, as Welsh mixes characters from Trainspotting and Glue into the rhythm of Sick Boy's return to Edinburgh from London. The Trainspotting man is on a mission to make the ultimate porn video - Seven Rides for Seven Brothers. But this book is about people rather than plots, and Sick Boy's former pal Renton is soon on the scene, a chain reaction set in motion.

Those who have read Welsh's previous work will be glad to hear that some of modern literature's most lovable faces are back - Frank Begbie, nutter, moralist and enemy of liberty-takers everywhere; Juice Terry Lawson, ex-aerated water salesman and fanny-filler extraordinaire; and Scruffy Spud Murphy, struggling junkie, husband and father, who, despite the drugs (or maybe because of them), is the only person operating with his eyes fully open. He sees clearly what is happening to his home town, and knows that the virus of gentrification has seeped so far into the British bloodstream that things will never ever be the same again.

There is also a new kid on the block, Curtis. A nervous teenager with a stammer, he is plucked from a life of verbal abuse when his huge cock is spied in a pub toilet by Sick Boy. Now a good director knows talent when he sees it, and soon Sick Boy has Curtis performing for the camera. Within months, the boy is stunning the stunners at the Cannes (porn) Festival, picking up an award but wishing his old piss-taking mates could share his success.

Big-hearted and fully cocked, this is how Porno operates. From local pub toilet to international stardom, dreams really can come true.

Begbie, Juice Terry, Spud and now Curtis all stay true to their core values, refusing to sell their souls - unlike Sick Boy and Renton, who, though decent at heart, have embraced the capitalist con. They are on the make, surfing the Thatcherite/new Labour wave to fame and fortune, a rip-off world run by yuppies bankrolled by rich mummies and daddies, an air-conditioned nightmare in which the older boys have to bury their punk beliefs if they are to compete and earn themselves a pension. The old folk looming in the background are a reminder of what lies ahead if they fail: a local rather than a global world, where the type of peas on the menu is more important than the strength of the landlord's cocaine, a whole way of life squeezed into a small corner of a pub destined for "refurbishment".

Sex, violence, drugs - big business peddles these money-spinners, claiming freedom of choice, and even though Sick Boy and Renton know the truth, they blank it out. Only Spud - junkie, gyppo, scruff - makes a stand as he researches a book on Leith's local history, concentrating on the old characters who made the place what it was. Even Begbie, bravely insisting that things won't change "cause ah fuckin well sais", sounds hollow, although you know the man means well.

Irvine Welsh first emerged in the pages of Rebel Inc magazine in the early 1990s. He blazed a trail through short stories, novellas, plays, Trainspotting and the mighty Marabou Stork Nightmares, before embarking on his present assault on the corporate machine. Filth, Glue and Porno operate beyond the narrow imagination of the literary establishment. They speak directly to the reader, operating in the sort of pubs and clubs where the thought police never tread.

A decade on from Trainspotting, Porno is another state-of-the-nation address, an indictment of our celebrity-obsessed, money-hungry rulers and the way their poison infects a once vibrant culture. It is, at the same time, very funny and full of humanity, a warm book for a cold, calculating time.

John King's latest novel is White Trash (Jonathan Cape)

This article first appeared in the 02 September 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Show trial: the left in the dock