Porno is billed as ‘the sequel to Trainspotting’, which immediately is a worrying sign, like the blow-up doll that stares out from the front cover. Why is Irvine Welsh returning to the territory of his phenomenal debut after all these years? Does it mean he has run out of ideas? And does anyone really want or need another fix of Sick Boy, Renton, Spud and Begbie, the drug-addled radges who put a largely hidden Edinburgh on the map nearly a decade ago?
These kind of doubts all swirl around as you pitch into Porno. The quotation from Nietzsche that prefaces the book – ‘without cruelty there is no festival’ – adds to the general feeling of advance queasiness.
It turns out to be far from misplaced. There are indeed scenes of stomach-churning cruelty and nastiness to be found, as if Welsh were determined to outdo himself. But it’s also impossible to ignore the wit, the scathing commentary and brilliant dialogue. These, as much as the subject-matter, were some of the things that made Trainspotting such a sensation.
This time round, there are two main drawbacks. The first is the obvious one that much of the sheer freshness of the original has been lost as Welsh himself and a host of pale imitators have been busy ever since. The other is structural. Where Trainspotting was essentially a tightly crafted series of vignettes whose characters overlapped into one coherent novel, Porno is a big, rambling narrative that feels overplotted.
It centres on the efforts of Sick Boy (Simon Williamson) to craft a pornographic movie, Seven Rides for Seven Brothers, with financial help from Renton, the double-crosser who has been making good money in the Amsterdam music scene and is now back in his native Edinburgh.