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Brilliant prose, but how original is the plot?l
Glue - Irvine Welsh
Member Name: Daisybelle
Glue - Irvine Welsh
Date: 25/05/01, updated on 25/05/01 (260 review reads)
Advantages: Real and gritty, Exciting subject matter
Disadvantages: Lacks originality
A degree of anticipation has been hanging over me whilst waiting for Mr Welsh’s latest book, and following Filth, his previous novel, it was mixed with trepidation as I can’t really say I liked Filth very much. It was too, well, filthy for want of a better word. Glue is a lot better though. It’s a step up for Welsh as he’s knocked out a respectable 464 pages and has looked beyond the slums of Edinburgh, well a bit, anyway.
It still has the same wise cracking, dialect, drugs, love, sex and violence as usual, but with a bit more structure and maturity. The only major doubt is this, and it would be cowardly not to say it – Is this an original piece of writing, or has he, inadvertently or otherwise plagiarised his English counterpart John King? Kings latest novel Human Punk (hereafter known as HP) published last autumn, bears an extremely uncanny resemblance to Glue.
If you aren’t familiar with Irvine Welsh, or his work, here’s a brief outline. Welsh grew up in Edinburgh on a housing scheme. If you’ve never seen an Edinburgh housing scheme, they are pretty dire and probably one of the main contributory factors to Edinburgh becoming known as Europe’s AIDS capital. Welsh himself was a heroin addict for a number of years, and this was the theme of what is probably his most well known work, Trainspotting, which was successfully adapted for the big screen in 1995.
All of his books and short stories so far have been written in Embra (Edinburgh) dialect, which some may find difficult to follow, they are also written using the language of the streets, which in turn some may find unnecessary. It’s worth persevering though, as Welsh is a talented and compassionate wordsmith, as well as a great storyteller.
Glue follows the fortunes of four friends across 3 decades. The foil of the group is “Juice” Terry Lawson, a witty, thieving womaniser who could charm the knickers
off his own Granny. Terry is a die-hard feminist, in that he thinks all women should be just as entitled as men to shag whoever they like. Andrew Galloway is small, shy and pretty. His father spends most of his time in Saughton Prison, so Gallie is without direction and bumbles through life. Hardman Billy Birrell dreams of playing for Hibernian FC, and his single-mindedness seems like it could be sufficient to take him all the way. Lastly there is Carl Ewart. Carl comes from a great, supportive family, was raised to be a good bloke and loves his music. The story begins in 1970, when the four start school, and takes snapshots of their lives at roughly 10-year intervals until the present day.
This is the first marked similarity to HP. Kings novel begins with four 15-year-old friends in 1977 and looks at their lives in 1988 and the present day. Both books are stories of growing up as working class kids, and how tragedy affects the groups of friends in the long term. Both tragedies occur in the intervening years, and both are suicides.
You could be forgiven for thinking, ah well, it’s a coincidence, why’s Daisybelle bleating on about it. Inside the cover of England Away, King’s third novel, is a quote about his first book, The Football Factory. “The best book I’ve read about football and working class culture in Britain in the nineties. Buy, steal or borrow a copy now.” – Irvine Welsh. So we know that IW reads and admires King, it’s just a case of deciding whether this is an innocent occurrence or not.
The book begins using less dialect than usual. Welsh even repeats some of the lines in plain English, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, I think this a ploy to sell copies to browsers South of the Border. As the book progresses he reverts to type and the dialect comes on thick and fast.
There is plenty of humour on offer and I ended up in stitches on several occ
asions. When the boys are pulled up by their Church Elder Headmaster, Blackie, for being late, he asks them what would’ve have happened if Jesus had been late for the Last Supper. Carl, brought up to speak his mind, answers “Eh would’ve goat fuck all tae eat”, at which point Blackie attempts to batter him with the strap. Welsh delivers it far better than that though, and my sides were hurting at the time. OK, so you had to be there. As in previous novels, he again employs the clever technique of putting the reader inside the characters’ heads, by means of them thinking out loud, so it’s very difficult not to empathise with even the grubbiest of situations.
As usual there are guest appearances by characters from Welsh’s previous novels. Renton pops up a couple of times, as do the Begbie brothers, Spud (Terry bumps into him when they are trying to burgle the same house simultaneously), Lexo, Sickboy and many others. I always like this touch from Welsh as it makes it all seem somehow more real. As Glue spans a long period of time, it doesn’t have the electric pace of Trainspotting, but this isn’t a criticism. I found myself able to read it carefully and in a leisurely fashion, as I really didn’t want it to end.
Welsh has made more of an effort in Glue to write on a broader stage. This means he introduces music, football violence and travel as themes, which yet again set him on a collision course with King, as HP is laden with musical references along with travel, and football violence is something King has done to death. I don’t want to say too much more on this issue, as to expand further on the similarities would involve giving away too much of both of the plots. If you’ve read either of the books and enjoyed them, try the other and see if you agree. I would have given Glue five stars if I hadn’t been so filled with déjà vu, but went for four instead.
price also helped get it down to a four, though I guess Mr Welsh would just laugh and say I should have nicked a copy. £11.99 reduced to £9.99 at Ottakars is steep by anyone’s standards. Publishers seem to have cottoned on that a lot people just don’t like hard backs, and are going for these giant paperbacks as the first release. Personally, I’d rather they robbed me blind on a normal sized copy, as at least it would have been handier to carry on holiday, or more importantly, to stick up your jumper and sneak off to the toilets at work.
I’ve wittered on a lot about how this book seems unoriginal. Both authors have the same publisher, Jonathon Cape, so you’d think the proof-readers would have picked this up. Maybe I’m just a dribbling idiot. Anyway, don’t be put off, it’s still a great read, filled with witty and sensitive observations in Welsh’s very unique style and I’d thoroughly recommend pinching yourself a copy this week.