In the wake of finishing up Porno, I find myself ruminating on the craft again — as I seem often to do when I wrap up a piece (be it read or written). How would I have described Welsh? — I ask myself — if I had chosen to write it like some book jacket summary or Washington Post book review instead of my cheeky linguistic dance of Leith lilt. Probably something like this: “Irvine Welsh is a bit like a Scottish Douglas Coupland with some of that Chuck Palahniuk edge.”
But that only seems partly right. And also a partly unfair.
Apparently I’m not far off. But I do ask myself why my mind makes this connection. A Scottish Douglas Coupland? Not more like Palahniuk? Why not the other way around? I get myself stuck on this Palahniuk connection. It isn’t that Welsh doesn’t have a hard edge. I keep drawing these tight parallels mentally between Welsh’s Sick Boy and Palahniuk’s Victor Mancini. Grit and cons and that underbelly-ish feeling you get from unsavory folks that you know are rifling through your recycling in hopes that you forgot to shred that one document with your social security number on it.
Perhaps it’s then despite these similarly toned characters that I bite my lip and consume Welsh as a matte realist and Palahniuk as eggshell surrealism. (Don’t ask me what’s become of Coupland in this discussion. Semi-gloss consumerist post-modernism?) But that surrealism, the tip-toe into the absurd is hardly well-described in terms of finish; it’s more of a smell, eh? My neurons start playing connect-the-dendrites on other names that reek with brilliance in my memory: Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Haruki Murakami, William S. Burroughs, and (of course?) David Foster Wallace. Is this our path to success then? Follow your nose past the kitchen’s bread out into that belching sulphorous stink from out back? Let go, the aroma seems to say — indeed, let go of that urgent-feeling so-called need to anchor yourself. Black comedy doesn’t come from realism, you know. Insight doesn’t come from doing the same old thing all the time.