‘Porno’ Book Review

Porno is the sequel to Irvine Welsh’s gritty masterpiece Trainspotting, and (like its predecessor) switches between the first person narratives of its major characters, Mark “Rents” Renton, Simon David “Sick Boy” Williamson, Francis “Franco” Begbie, Danny “Spud” Murphy and Nikki Fuller-Smith. (The small number of narrators in Porno is dwarfed by the much larger and more varied number of those in ‘Trainspotting’.) Each character has their own distinct style of writing, and, unlike Trainspotting, each character has their own defined chapter heading in order to show distinction.

Porno, despite being a very good book, is no Trainspotting. It’s still shocking and brutal, at times moving, but it feels overwhelmingly older. The backdrop of the porn industry in the book is wholly more empty than the drugs scene was in Trainspotting; the characters have a chip on their shoulder, and it shows in the writing. Altogether less warm, less wise, less honest. It is, without a doubt, still a superb work – Welsh has a fantastic way with language and is often harsh and witty, but it doesn’t pack the same punch when you’re seeing middle aged men scrabble for something they lost years ago. Trainspotting was profound in how it portrayed addiction and addicts, not shying away from the more gruesome bits and succeeding in painting its characters as warm and intelligent, whilst still capturing the violence and gore of the drugs scene. However Porno is a far cry from these young men struggling in a world they don’t really understand or have a place in; they seem to have become partially what they said they wouldn’t, with none of the same vigour or passion. But in its own way this emptiness and, at times, self-awareness, works in Welsh’s favour; it would probably be unrealistic of us as readers to ask for a similar tone in these older men as what we had from them earlier, and maybe it is simply more accurate to portray them as he does.

The language is still there; a bright bombardment felt deep within the story – in fact it almost is the story. We see that still in Begbie and Spud, even at times Simon or Mark; the vernacular of it is what keeps it alive, makes it dance the way ‘Trainspotting’ did, right off of the page and into stark, colourful reality. A raw jumble which allowed so much room for meaning without having to ever really spell anything out, but Porno is in many ways more organised, still hard hitting, but not quite so laid bare. With the second Trainspotting film due at the end of January, and with Danny Boyle stating he would take influence from Porno, it could be interesting to see how different it is (my money is on very different, if the first film was anything to go by), and if our heroes will meet a particularly different ending. It will be difficult to capture their age in the same way in film, and perhaps it will have lost some dignity. Perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.