Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Irvine Welsh and the Roman à Clef

The Blether Region hopes it isn't being too controversial if it says that Irvine Welsh's dialect tour de force Trainspotting works better as a film than as a book. The plotting of the cinema version is tighter and better paced, and while its cutting of pure poverty with the chalk of glamour is less challenging, it makes for more interesting art — as well as being, of course, much closer to the reality of being poor in Edinburgh.

One sub-story in Trainspotting never made it into the film — indeed, it may come to those who watch it before picking up the book as something of a surprise: a lengthy excursion into Standard English in which a character revenges himself on a dying enemy by drugging his small child and making him up to make it look like he has killed him in a sex crime. The Blether Region found the episode laboured and in poor taste.

Welsh's subsequent tryptych of novellas, Ecstasy, subtitled "three tales of chemical romance", goes yet further in the same vein, including Freddy Royle, a character who is both a paedophile and a necrophiliac.

It was at this point that the Blether Region ceased to read anything by Welsh. Apart from the tedious, no-holds-barred re-spelling of dialect that in the final analysis doesn't differ that much from Standard English, the concentration on another drug suggested an early surrender to formula, while the fantastical toilet detail of the sexual perversion is almost embarrassingly juvenile.

And yet recently the Blether Region found itself thinking of Ecstasy again, and wanting to re-read it.

For Freddy Royle is not merely a pervert. He is also a television entertainer who has raised millions for hospital charities.

In short, he is almost certainly based on Jimmy Savile.

Back in 1996, when Ecstasy came out, the Blether Region had no inkling that such an extreme character, exhibiting such wide-ranging perversion, might possibly be based on a real person, let alone a household name. And while it found it strange when Jimmy Savile claimed in an interview that he had remained unmarried simply because no woman would tolerate his cigar habit, until last year's revelations it thought no more of it.

Although there may have been some libertine aristocrat or other in an earlier age who was a more prolific deviant, Savile may well have been the greatest sexual abuser of modern times. One cannot achieve such a dubious distinction without people being aware; the known victims alone number in their hundreds. Nor can one do so without one's activities enjoying, if not outright protection, at least a degree of tolerance.

Someone, after all, must have told Welsh.

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