The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

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The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Megan Kenny
Reviewed by Megan Kenny
Summary: The Blade Artist is a thrilling return to the eloquently brutal world of Begbie, so long a tyrannical protector of the Trainspotting crew, now reformed, relocated and refocused. For fans of Welsh this bloody tour de force is a welcome addition to the vivid life of Francis Begbie aka Jim Francis, a criminal reformed, a visionary artist or the same old big bad Begbie with better PR?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781784700553

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So. In the interest of honest disclosure I should tell you that I love Irvine Welsh's work and I must confess to a particularly gruesome fancy for Begbie, the notoriously violent, terrifying protector/tormentor of the Trainspotting gang. Whilst this means you are unlikely to receive an unbiased review, it does mean you will get a passionate one. It is fair to say that I loved The Blade Artist and my only critique would be that it was over too quickly. For those of you who may not be familiar with Welsh's earlier manifestations have no fear, you can pick up The Blade Artist and be transfixed by Jim Francis, artist, father, husband and elegant thug. For those of you with previous knowledge of Francis Begbie you'll be instantly drawn back into the world of a man previously defined by petty vengeance, violence and blood.

Without giving too much away, the essence of this violently macabre tale of cloaked rage and brutal revenge is that the old Begbie we knew from the days of Skagboys, Trainspotting and Porno is now a reformed character, transformed during one of his many prison sentences into an artist, living the life in California. A tragedy facilitates his return to Scotland and the opportunity to become tangled up with old enemies and new dangers, to exhibit his recovery to a disbelieving crowd and perhaps settle some old scores. Whilst he's away his hopeful, trusting wife starts to discover that perhaps her belief in the restorative power of art, her husband's ability to change and her security in their life together may have been built on an unsteady foundation of deep cleansing breaths and barely restrained mayhem.

What I loved about The Blade Artist was the discomforting notion of Begbie, so often perceived as a blunt tool designed only for violence, being reinvented as Jim, a character with depth and softness, vulnerability and insight into his self-made destruction. This razor sharp, almost reptilian insight is ruthlessly applied to all who cross his path with appallingly dismissive superiority. Rather than the physical violence metered out by Begbie, Jim wields his words with a knife edge designed to cut as deeply as any blade. Welsh's expert use of flashback reveals the defining events and memories which helped to shape the present incantation of Francis Begbie and shapes the narrative of his transformation.

For me, the central theme here is that of ageing and maturation, something which is particularly poignant for those of us who have aged alongside Begbie throughout Welsh's earlier work; the reflections and nostalgia experienced by Begbie could apply to Welsh himself and to every reader who can retrospectively examine the version of themselves who first read Trainspotting and reflect on the numerous lives lived since then. That is the true power of The Blade Artist, by summoning nostalgia and encouraging meditation on the nature of anger, fear and the impetuousness of youth Welsh encourages us all to examine the idea of choice and the often clinically brutal nature of self-development. All the hallmarks of Welsh's work are here; vivid depictions of violence, the use of sex, drugs and cruelty to escape from harsh reality, delightfully vulgar language and an ability to deliver a stab to the gut like a love poem. If you are a fan of Welsh's earlier work, The Blade Artist will not disappoint, the characters are as viciously vile as you expect them to be, the victims as hopeless as the villains are merciless and the infamous Begbie as ruthless as ever. This evolution of one of Welsh's most infamous characters is insightful and delivered with obvious love without forgetting the essence of the man underneath the art, the violence and the reputation. As the story builds to its thrilling crescendo the reader is left breathlessly wondering whether a Leith leopard can ever change his spots and if, in fact, we'd want him to.

To read more by Irvine Welsh (and you really should…) try Crime, If You Liked School, You'll Love Work, Reheated Cabbage by Irvine Welsh or The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins.

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Buy The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh at


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