With a title like Glue
, it would seem reasonable to assume that Irvine Welsh's fifth book is a meditation on the pitfalls of solvent abuse. In fact the word refers to the bonds that unite four boys, all of whom have grown up in "the scheme"--i.e., Edinburgh's slum-clearance flats, whose optimistic construction in the 1970s give way to the poverty, unemployment, and crime of the succeeding decades. It is the pervasive despair of these crumbling projects that defines the lives of the protagonists: budding DJ Carl Ewart, boxer Billy Birrell, work-shy, sex-mad Terry Lawson, and Andrew Galloway, a drug addict who has tested HIV-positive.
Recounted in the author's inimitable style, Glue is a grungy, Scots-accented bildungsroman. The novel follows the boys through their early forays into sex, drink, drugs, and football violence. Contemplating his erotic initiation, Carl Ewart poses such crucial questions as "How dae ah chat up a bird?" and "Do I wear a rubber johnny?" Here and there Welsh injects political commentary into the mix: Billy Birrell, for example, reflects that "having money is the only way to get respect. Desperate, but that's the world we live in now." For the most part, though, the author sticks to sex and violence and his famously offhand one-liners: "Guilt and shaggin, they go the gither like fish n chips." Fans of Trainspotting will love the book, even down to the brief appearance of Begbie and Renton. Others may feel that Glue is more of the same, and that, despite its graphic charms, the book finds Welsh stuck in a rut. --Jerry Brotton
From Publishers Weekly
Spanning four decades, Welsh's first full-length novel since 1998's Filth chronicles the friendship of four boys from the Edinburgh projects who cling together through football brawls, "shagging" ordeals, encounters with the law, drug experimentation and loss. The POV of this brutally dark tale shifts smoothly among the friends, showcasing Welsh's finely tuned ear for dialect as well as his ability to craft rich, memorable characters. Although the lads differ in many ways Juice Terry Lawson is a bawdy ladies' man with an eye for resalable goods; Billy "Business" Birrell is a rational-minded, all-around athlete with an iron fist; NSIGN Carl Ewart is a philosopher king and a talented disc jockey; "wee" Andrew Galloway (aka Gally) is a warmhearted but luckless drug addict they are bound by the same set of principles: never hit a woman, always back up your mates and never snitch on anyone. Welsh's prose is sometimes coarse and sometimes surprisingly introspective as he describes the introduction of new technologies into factories and contemplates changing mores in Scotland. These general observations give depth to the foreground adventures of Terry, Billy, Carl and Gally, who, despite changing circumstances, strive to stay mates as they approach middle age and the new millennium. A character from Trainspotting makes a cameo appearance during a bungled heist, and readers will note other correspondences with Welsh's cult classic. Stocked with his usual quirky, sympathetic characters, this rollicking new tale sparkles with the writer's trademark satiric wit. Its heft and narrative breadth should convince any remaining skeptics that Welsh now effectively the grand old man of in-your-face Scottish fiction is a writer to be taken seriously. (May)Forecast: Considerably longer than any of Welsh's previous efforts, this brick of a book will sit well on display tables. Loyal readers will likely pack readings on a nine-city author tour; if critics pay homage, too, this could be Welsh's biggest seller since Trainspotting.
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