If You Liked School, You'll Love Work by Irvine Welsh

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If You Liked School, You'll Love Work by Irvine Welsh

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A selection of five shorter works from Scotland's biggest cult author, with very varying subject but not enough variety of character or approach.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: July 2007
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224075886

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There is a perception that, whether you love or hate Irvine Welsh, you know just what to expect with his books. This volume is no exception. The first F-word is in the first sentence, with a second joining it on the first page. Hard drug use is on the fifth page, and sex soon joins it. But I cannot just list what we can predict from this book and hope to get away with it, so here's a bit more you might not predict.

The first story, for one, is written in American - peppered with "gotten"s, and linebackers. It's a forty pager, of middling success, which boils down to a racially provoked sexual humiliation, which peaks with some blackish humour then goes downhill. It's interesting to consider what it offers as a short story - entertainment of a kind, of course, but if you seek a moral it is only that regarding the evil of snap judgements.

In that case, the protagonist of the title story should adhere to that moral. This one is of a Cockney expat running a bar in the Canaries, and trying to juggle a plump married girlfriend he works with, other girlfriends he doesn't, an ex still in London and his daughter by the latter - and a couple of gangster-types. This story of a playa on the playas is perhaps the most immediately enjoyable.

I turned to the fourth story next, wherein a chap is trying to research a biography of an American film director, by visiting his widow. They unusually gel over taxidermy, before his successes with his own film career cause a split in their oddly-building relationship. It builds from a sort of messy beginning to a pretty good end.

Elsewhere Welsh continues to write in an American accent, when he enters successfully the minds of some of Chicago's upper working class office worker ladies who lunch. However he finds nothing of note therein, and when it emerges he is just playing with one of the hoariest of racial slurs, you cannot indulge in greater comment than 'ho-hum'.

Finally, in the short novel that rounds off this book, Welsh enters the vernacular of Fife, and we're with the heavily accented writing of a failed jockey, resorting to bumming round the streets, downing Guinness, trying to be a "table fitba" champion, and ogling the horsey girls he knows from his youth who have maintained their position on the better side of the tracks. Again there's a sort of dark humiliation humour at play, but in this longer piece you're often in a drift, waiting for this ex-maverick author to break his main characters away from drinking, masturbating, and remembering fights of old - including verbal spats with fathers.

You get the sense with this volume that the cosmopolitan world Welsh has inherited due to his success has extended further than he himself has. He writes in American successfully, but you wonder why he feels he has to. The equine elements, and taxidermy of all things suggest he is breaking from older templates, but they don't add much save some very minor regard for his research. The references to bad current pop bands are there, but the drugs don't change (luckily the horse drug ketamine isn't in use here).

I haven't read a lot of Welsh in the past, for sure, but I was left with the distinct feeling that I got what I expected with this book after all, despite the possibility of the collection expanding Welsh's range. There's the typical tropes of violence, alcohol, base sexuality, and not a lot else. The collection has no over-riding theme, nor anything that branches from a middling-to-good quality level, and seems to define a time when Welsh is willing but unable to push his milieus beyond what we might expect.

I can't get into the mindset of a Welsh fan enough to know whether this will be welcome returns to the norm, or just same-old same-old, and I still think that with Trainspotting being so obviously *the* iconic book to start with, I doubt I should recommend this volume to the dabbler or newcomer. This fistful of deja-vu was of minor interest and medium entertainment only.

I would still like to thank the publishers for sending the bookbag a copy to review.

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Buy If You Liked School, You'll Love Work by Irvine Welsh at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy If You Liked School, You'll Love Work by Irvine Welsh at Amazon.com.


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