Reheated Cabbage by Irvine Welsh

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Reheated Cabbage by Irvine Welsh

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Paul Harrop
Reviewed by Paul Harrop
Summary: Don't go looking for subtle characterisation and exquisite moral dilemmas in these stories: Welsh mostly plays the drugs, drink and disorder for laughs. Readers tend either to love Welsh or hate him, and neither camp will be surprised or disappointed by this collection.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224080552

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Irvine Welsh's choice of title for this collection of short stories may serve to warn some unwary readers of its unpalatable nature. To the uninitiated, its stream of unrestrained swearing, drug taking, sex and casual violence could come as a shock. His fans though, will no doubt lap it up.

Welsh has assembled and re-worked some rare bits of his output, some now out of print, as well as one long unpublished story, to produce this volume of his uncollected shorter work since the mid-1990s. And as such Reheated Cabbage would probably serve as a good introduction to his style and subject matter - from the phonetic transcriptions of Scottish accents and the above-mentioned preoccupations, to the appearance of several characters from his novels.

If there are uniting themes to the older work here, they are alcohol and violence. Given the behaviour of his characters (there is dismemberment, death, and vicious assault) the issue of morality also inevitably raises its head. His characters certainly can be amoral: in the bleakly comic first tale 'A Fault on the Line' a husband sees the accidental maiming of his wife merely as an inconvenience which has made him miss the start of a match on the telly.

While that story portrays utter nihilism, Welsh elsewhere forces people to face the consequences of their actions. The results range from ghastly black humour to queasy sentimentality. A homophobic thug dies and is condemned to a purgatory of buggering his closest friends. Two friends vying for the same girl's affections end up in a blissed-out Ecstacy-fuelled clinch. And in a flash of lucidity on the comedown from an acid trip, a character blurts out about the death of a junky acquaintance: We saw Boaby die... it shouldnae be like this, it shouldnae be like nothing's happened.

Unlike some readers, I had few problems with such presentations of Scots dialect. In fact, the conventional dialogue is stilted and unnatural in comparison. Where the vernacular alternates with received pronunciation, the necessary mental gear change is positively jarring.

Other juxtapositions are intentional, and more successful. The longish science-fiction of 'The Rosewell Incident' switches register between glue-sniffing youths who roar It wisna meant to be me... It was meant to be that c**t and the musings of an ambitious policeman surveying the Edinburgh suburbs: Conditioned to its incremental development as he was, sometimes the nastiness of the arbitrary, incongruent nature of the locale jarred with him. Almost inevitably, given these irreconcilable viewpoints (not to mention chain-smoking aliens) the story descends into slapstick farce.

The final story 'I am Miami' is a welcome respite from the beer and beatings. Set in Welsh's new Florida abode which also featured in his last novel Crime, it portrays a rigidly religious retired schoolmaster forced to confront the success of a former pupil turned rave DJ. In its affirmation of the value of marriage, restrained comedy, and its subtle and ambiguous handling of character and moral themes (Welsh admits to admiring Jane Austen), it is the most satisfying of all the stories here. It may even indicate a new and potentially fruitful avenue for him in future.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For more short stories we can recommend The Last Bachelor by Jay McInerney.

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