Skagboys: How Renton went from Aberdeen University to heroin abuse

IRVINE WELSH’s latest book, Skagboys, sees the return of Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud: four characters whose manifold misadventures and tragedies, portrayed in the seminal Trainspotting, unveiled a warped mirror to an Edinburgh underbelly few thought existed.

Skagboys, like Welsh’s 2002 novel Porno, aims to further explore these characters, but does so in a markedly different way, instead uncovering the genesis of their collective drug habit, daubbed thick with Welsh’s withering commentary on Thatcherism in Scotland. Welsh’s portrayal of the quartet in their youth offers new insight into the psychology of Renton and co (or, in Begbie’s case, psychosis), and, as The Scotsman discovers, no little surprise at the seemingly out-of-character traits shown by characters we thought we knew so well...

Renton

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In Skagboys: The first in the family to go to university, studying at Aberdeen University. Renton has a girlfriend at university, Fiona, His first encounter with heroin, as a witness to someone injecting it at a party, inspires contempt, but begins to fall into addiction after the death of his severely disabled brother, Davie.

In Trainspotting: By now fully involved in drug culture and back in Edinburgh, Renton grows disillusioned with his life alongside his friends and spends most of the time falling in and out of addiction, all the while battling to seek a new life, which he eventually does in Amsterdam after helping himself to money made from a London drug deal, which Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud also partook in.

Sick Boy

In Skagboys: Spoiled by his mother and sisters, who are themselves controlled by a bullying father, Sick Boy begins to amplify this template of dysfunction, sleeping with and manipulating women. Sick Boy is generally unperturbed by his friends’ dilemmas.

In Trainspotting: Increasingly aloof and arrogant, Sick Boy considers himself above everyone and everything, including his heroin ‘addiction’, which he treats more as a flirtation. The death of his neglected infant daughter, occurring while deep in a heroin-induced daze, disturbs him only temporarily before arranging a drug deal in London.

Spud

In Skagboys: Spud is made redundant from his job as a removals man, an event which acts as one of the focal points for Welsh’s socio-political commentary on 80s Britain. For much of the book, he displays similar personality traits to those he showed in Trainspotting.

In Trainspotting: The only one in the gang addicted to heroin without having constructed an elaborate philosophical motivation to justify it, Spud’s child-like naivety extends to his friendship with the trio, who do not take him seriously. By the end of the book, he is the only one of the trio who Renton considers a friend.

Begbie

In Skagboys: Begbie is not yet the all-singing, all-dancing hardman so feared by his friends and many others, though his hair-trigger temper seems not to have changed, losing the run of himself when he is complimented on his singing voice.

In Trainspotting: Spends the novel wrestling his own addiction - violence - though, unlike Renton and Sick Boy, puts up no pretense of overcoming it. Goes berserk when Renton steals the money made from the heroin deal in London, seeing it as an unforgivable breach of loyalty.