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Mark Renton has it all: he's good-looking, young, with a pretty girlfriend and a place at university. But there's no room for him in the 1980s. Thatcher's government is destroying working-class communities across Britain, and the post-war certainties of full employment, educational opportunity and a welfare state are gone. When his family starts to fracture, Mark's life swings out of control and he succumbs to the defeatism which has taken hold in Edinburgh's grimmer areas. The way out is heroin.

It's no better for his friends. Spud Murphy is paid off from his job, Tommy Lawrence feels himself being sucked into a life of petty crime and violence - the worlds of the thieving Matty Connell and psychotic Franco Begbie. Only Sick Boy, the supreme manipulator of the opposite sex, seems to ride the current, scamming and hustling his way through it all.

Skagboys charts their journey from likely lads to young men addicted to the heroin which has flooded their disintegrating community. This is the 1980s: a time of drugs, poverty, AIDS, violence, political strife and hatred - but a lot of laughs, and maybe just a little love; a decade which changed Britain for ever. The prequel to the world-renowned Trainspotting, this is an exhilarating and moving book, full of the scabrous humour, salty vernacular and appalling behaviour that has made Irvine Welsh a household name.

548 pages, Paperback

First published April 19, 2012

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About the author

Irvine Welsh

131 books6,472 followers
Probably most famous for his gritty depiction of a gang of Scottish Heroin addicts, Trainspotting (1993), Welsh focuses on the darker side of human nature and drug use. All of his novels are set in his native Scotland and filled with anti-heroes, small time crooks and hooligans. Welsh manages, however to imbue these characters with a sad humanity that makes them likable despite their obvious scumbaggerry. Irvine Welsh is also known for writing in his native Edinburgh Scots dialect, making his prose challenging for the average reader unfamiliar with this style.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 702 reviews
Profile Image for Andrew.
25 reviews29 followers
April 28, 2012
I should prefix this short review with a disclaimer that I'm a huge Welsh fan-boy and am probably incapable of writing anything totally subjective about this book.

Since Trainspotting, I have read everything he has ever done and have bought the books the minute they have come out. I suppose he's the literary equivalent to my favoutite band and like with my favourite band even when the high standards slip (If you liked school, you'll love work) I always believe it's only a temporary glitch and greatness will soon be restored. Although this isn't always the case; Oasis being a fine example of that.

Skagboys is a return to form for Welsh, all the characters from Trainspotting are back and up to their usual shennanigans. When Welsh is on form he's characterisation is second to none and the way he writes the dynamic between the group of pals is just superb.

Welsh is in my opinion one of the few genuine working class voices on the British literary scene and I don't think there are any other authors with whose characters I can relate to more. Trainspotting was one of the first books I read where I felt compelled to write a letter to the author, I got as far as 'Dear Irvine' and then felt like a bit of a knob-head and decided against it.

If you liked Trainspotting and Porno, you'll like Skagboys, it does go off on a few tangents and there are some characters I would have liked to have seen expanded on, but overall I think it's a roaring success and I'm giving it five stars.

I'm contemplating reading the trilogy in chronological order now, re-reading Trainspotting next then Porno. The only thing stopping me is the suspicion it's a bit sad and the fact I have an unread Tom Franklin book just calling my name. Decisions, decisions!!

Profile Image for Jayakrishnan.
488 reviews168 followers
December 25, 2019
As one other reviewer wrote, reading Skagboys is like meeting your old long lost friends. Trainspotting is one of my five favourite novels of all time and a prequel where all the characters are in their early twenties is like a treat. There are few books where the characters are so memorable that finishing the book is almost the same as them leaving your home or life forever.

As a middle class Indian, my interest in a book like Trainspotting (or Skagboys) is almost superficial. For me, Trainspotting is about these young working class people in Scotland who seem to be "living it up" - getting high on heroine, getting drunk, having casual sex, sneering at getting jobs and the middle classes in their own country and generally laying around doing nothing or reflecting on the futility of entering the rat race. And then there is the amazing social commentary that would probably resonate with anybody anywhere in the world.

I don't even know much about Scotland or Britain or what happened to the British working classes when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. But when I started to read Skagboys, I remembered an anecdote from V.S.Naipaul's biography which I had read earlier this year. Sometime in 1985, V.S.Naipaul and Iris Murdoch (along with a bunch of other intellectuals) attended a dinner at 10 Downing Street for an intellectual discussion about Margaret Thatcher. During the discussion, Murdoch said that "what was required was a caring and compassionate society". And Naipaul (who is sort of a pro-establishment figure), responded with "Iris, I first heard those words twenty years ago. They had no meaning then, they have less meaning now". Apparently, Murdoch did not utter a word for the rest of the evening.

Skagboys is about that society which Murdoch said required caring and compassion. There is mass unemployment, families are breaking up and there is a general sense of despair among the young working class kids in Leith. The ending of old certainties and the economic turmoil in Britain magnifies the problems in their own lives.

The 25-26 year old wasters in Trainspotting are in their early 20s in Skagboys. Mark Renton is doing well at University and seems to want to leave the life in Leith behind him. But his spastic younger brother grates on his nerves and the thought of entering the 9 to 5 middle class life of conformity with his beautiful girlfriend Fiona scares the shit out of him. Sick Boy is already a street smart young man but is racked by guilt at the things he would do to get laid and have a nice time. Sensitive Spud Murphy is laid off and is desperate for female companionship. Alison struggles with the death of her mother. They’re all on the edge and waiting for something. Some kind of direction ..... or some kind of distraction.

The book gets off to a fantastic and pulsating start. Mark Renton and his dad wake up early in the morning to go to the Orgreave coking plant where miners take on the police. They are egged on by Mark's granny who gives them whiskey early in the morning for inspiration. Hahaha! This is all from an entry in Mark’s rehab journal.

Welsh is in the form of his life in Skagboys. Sample some of Renton’s early weariness about his home country - “upset my hairy *beep* its this *beep* that upsets me. the proddies and the papes: the lowlife rump ay losers, distilled fae the dregs ay european christendoms two most blood simple tribes. sneering, rabid vermin who intuitively know they're at the bottom ay the trash pile at the scabbiest end ay a bunch ay frozen rocks in the north sea."

Welsh had given more chapters to Spud and Francis Begbie in Porno (compared to Trainspotting). And they are prominent characters in Skagboys. And it is the chapters told from Spud and Begbie’s point of view that are the most interesting and entertaining.

The book is not without its faults – some of Renton and Sick Boy’s escapades like their time working in a ship seem to be uninspired. Characters like Matty and Nicksie are easily forgettable (maybe this was intentional?). And the ending was a bit too abrupt, as if it was written for a thrilling movie ending. And even though it made me want to quit my job and drink myself to death, Skagboys lacks the killer punch of Trainspotting. When I read Trainspotting at the age of 23, it blew me away completely. It is a book that had a tremendous impact on my life. And the reason was the amazing social commentary in the book. Even though Trainspotting was humorous, the humour did not eclipse the despair felt by the characters. In both Porno and Skagboys, the things that need to be in the background seem to be in the forefront.

Nonetheless, a very entertaining read and it has affected me deeply, though nowhere as much as Trainspotting did. I guess this has as a lot to do with me being a much older person. It would be interesting to hear from somebody who reads Skagboys before sampling any of Welsh’s other work.
Profile Image for Paltia.
633 reviews87 followers
May 16, 2019
Maybe you grew up in a city on the wrong side of town. If so, you might find yourself saying I knew these characters or people who were very similar to them. Irvine Welsh is a master at creating characters that are so real, with each so flawlessly described, that you don’t lose track of who’s who in his books. This prequel to Trainspotting felt more desperate and ominous. Perhaps that was on account of having that feeling of dread when you knew where things are headed. It is a searingly graphic and brutally honest depiction of a deep dive into the abyss of heroin addiction. There is still plenty of humor with some characters being quite adept at self deprecation. The political situation of the time continues as a backdrop to the story. The city shuts down the needle exchange indifferent to the inevitable outcome of AIDS. Who in government or the general population gives a care about junkies? Laced throughout there are references to philosophers, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, used by Mark Renton, the character who loves reading, to help himself better understand the predicaments of his life. He has a clear comprehension of the choices he’s made. The choice to leave life behind as he once knew it and commit himself to stealing, scoring, and using. A life of daily obstacles and limitations. A life on the periphery - lawless, unwashed, and nearly corrupted by want. Yet the story ends with the elegant Welsh trademark. There Renton and Simon spew poison out in every direction as they climb a rickety staircase to stand up in truth. It gives me chills to think about it. There is between the two lads that tiny spark of honesty which ends the story with hope.
Profile Image for F.
294 reviews253 followers
September 8, 2016

So happy to be reunited with these characters.
Love these guys more than words can describe.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,213 reviews266 followers
March 20, 2023
Since reading Trainspotting around the time it came out I have read and, to one degree or another, enjoyed every one of Irvine Welsh's books.

Before writing this review I had a look round at other reviews and notice that this book polarises opinion, generally though most of the readers who have enjoyed previous Irvine Welsh books have enjoyed this one - though certainly not all. One reviewer likened Skagboys to the extras that turn on up on some DVDs, specifically that Skagboys is the extras for Trainspotting - a more in depth look at the main characters on their path to drug addiction, prison etc. That does this book a disservice. Skagboys stands up on its own merits, whilst mainly appealing to people who read and enjoyed Trainspotting and Porno.

Irvine Welsh says that Skagboys was written as part of Trainspotting, and at the same time, which makes sense. It's like a Scottish literary version of the superb US TV series The Wire. The book directly or indirectly touches on all aspects of the world of heroin during the Thatcher years, with the focus being on the core of working class lads from Leith. During the course of the book some of the characters move from Edinburgh; to London; briefly to Amsterdam and a stint working on a Sealink ferry; to a rehab centre near Fife; and even the Battle of Orgreave during the Miners Strike.

Irvine Welsh weaves in plenty of real life incidents into his narrative. I mentioned the infamous Battle of Orgreave, I was visiting Amsterdam in the mid 1980s when West Ham United FC and Manchester United FC hooligans caused chaos on the ferry to Holland and in the city. Those events appear in Skagboys too. Talk about art imitating life.

As with the other books about these characters the stories are told by different characters and perspectives. This is a real strength which gives insights into each of the main characters, and many of the more minor ones too. The Trainspotting crew inspire Irvine Welsh's best writing. Skagboys is another visceral page turner. It's such a shame that he is no longer flavour of the month, as this book is absolutely superb. If you loved Trainspotting and Porno, then you should revel in this prequel. By turns hilarious, appalling, and frequently both at the same time. Quietly profound too - Irvine Welsh gives Renton numerous opportunities to take a route out of addiction, but each time he reasons that heroin addiction is a rational response to the futility of the alternatives on offer in Thatcher's Britain, and given his own personal history. The addict as the ultimate free spirited, non-conformist. That perhaps makes the book sound quite serious. It certainly has moments of profundity but is as much about Irvine Welsh's trademark hilarious, appalling, dark, witty, insightful set pieces, scams, and stories.


Profile Image for Gianfranco Mancini.
2,198 reviews754 followers
April 23, 2021

"Per me è stato amore al primo buco, matrimonio alla prima fumata. Esatto, io amo la mia ero. La vita dovrebbe essere come quando sei strafatto."

Forse non sarà intenso e viscerale come Trainspotting od esilarante come Porno, ma ho letteralmente adorato questo prequel ambientato agli inizi di quando Renton e gli altri ragazzacci di Leith iniziano a farsi di Skag... a parte Tommy e Begbie, al confronto del quale gli altri sono comunque dei santarellini e la sua scena dello scambio di persona in carcere mi ha fatto ridere fino alle lacrime.

600 e più pagine che si leggono tutte di un fiato se avete letto il primo libro o ne conoscete a memoria come me l'omonimo adattamento cinematografico del 1996.

5 stelle strameritate.
Profile Image for Daren.
1,300 reviews4,373 followers
September 1, 2019
Even though I am a big fan Welsh's work, this book worked a lot better than I had expected.
It is, of course the prequel to Trainspotting, and fills in the backgrounds of our favourite characters during the 1980s, including their introduction to heroin.

Like Trainspotting, and many of Welsh's other books it is written in part in Scottish dialect.
It amazes me, with the writing, how talented Welsh is to be able to have a different written form for each character. For each chapter before the narrator is fully revealed, it is almost always obvious who the character is just by the formation of their sentences and word choices.

At some 550 pages, this book sat in my shelf for a long time for two reasons - it is a lengthy investment in time, but more importantly, I was concerned it wouldn't be excellent. It could have been a shallow, or poorly constructed reverse-engineering of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie. It could have done a disservice to Trainspotting, one of my favourite books of my youth. Thankfully, it was none of these things.

Excellent, and 5 Stars.
Author 5 books1 follower
September 16, 2013
The best book I've read in a while. Don't ask me if it was as good as Trainspotting because that was ages ago.

Skagboys sounds right. The dialogue written in phonetic Edinburghese(?) was tricky at the start but I soon got into it and was calling my wife a c**t in no time. Seriously, be careful of that. Your head will be taken over by an angry foul-mouthed Scot. (As if there is any other kind.)

Skagboys sounds right because it is written in the first person from a number of perspectives. So you get filled in on the action from a number of points of view. The characters don't emerge from some poncey third person narrator describing how they feel about this and that. Instead we are inside the heads of Begbie, Renton, Sick Boy et al from the get go. So it's immediate, personal, intense from the moment Renton goes to a miners protest march with his Dad.

The plot line is heroin. A bunch of working class guys from Edinburgh drop out of Thatcher's 1980s revolution and get hooked on skag. It's familiar to those of us who grew up in 80s Britain and Ireland and still exotic to those of us who didn't end up shooting up in a squat.

There is and there isn't social commentary in the book. The characters have strong views about what's happening around them, but not as strong as their views on football and getting laid. Like I say, it sounds right.

Mainly, it's hilarious. Begbie sums up his views on immigration with "c**nts should stay where they are." And he was talking about some guy who moved to Leith from another part of Edinburgh.

If you like cursing, 80s Britain, sex, soccer and booze then you should definitely read this book.
169 reviews4 followers
August 18, 2012
For the purposes of this review I decided to read Skagboys, Trainspotting and Porno one after another to get a true feel for the quality of each. I'd read prior to embarking on this epic trek through the 'trilogy' that Skagboys is simply too long-winded and meandering compared to the pithy set-pieces of Trainspotting. However, as a massive fan of Irvine Welsh I found Skagboys to be utterly enthralling and potentially even better than Trainspotting. This is a complicated judgement though because without having read Trainspotting beforehand I don't think I would have enjoyed it so much. The thrill for me was finding out so much of the background to all the characters I loved from Trainspotting - the political context in particular is very interesting (albeit predictable; Thatcherism etc etc.). So despite the fact that chronologically its set before Trainspotting, I would advise those new to Renton, Sick Boy et. al. to read Trainspotting first. I would treat Skagboys as the extras on the Director's Cut DVD, albeit a set of extras that is over three-times the length of the original feature! Perfect for fans.
Profile Image for Filip.
75 reviews18 followers
October 29, 2012
Ah dinnae really expect ah'm gaunny git intae a 500 page book that wis written in this dialect, likesay ken? Ah'm nae Scottish gadge masel.

But it really did wonders to the book, the language, and the culture that Irvine Welsh depicted in this prequel.

TL;DR - if you liked Trainspotting, you'll definitely like Skagboys too.

Note that this was my first venture into the world of Trainspotting, the crown jewel of this story - I deliberately decided to follow Renton & co. from the start, sticking my head into sand and ignoring the rest of the series until it was time to read/watch what happened next.

Like I said, the writing style discouraged me, as did the sheer size of the book, but it didn't take long for me to become immersed in the gritty reality of drug (and Margaret Thatcher) stricken Edinburgh.

The characters are as real as they can be. Welsh really takes his time to develop their persona and unique voice, evading the "bad character development" complaint that we see every so often in other books or films. We get to see inner dialogue of key characters at certain points in the book which sounds like a potential disaster and a jumbled mess of different accents and mannerisms, but comes across as necessary, fresh and coherent in this particular book. The characters are so well written that they became the plot itself, and didn't leave us desiring for a more linear one.

Profile Image for Prundeanu Ciprian.
145 reviews3 followers
May 13, 2019
Barry, you radge c**t! A seminal linguistic work on the intricacies of Scottish English and a thorough medical analysis of the perils of substance abuse. 9/10 will enjoy (unless a Jambo or a weedgie).
Profile Image for Loren Niva.
Author 3 books30 followers
May 30, 2012
As a long time Welsh fan, I suppose I could be considered a little biased - but really, in all honesty, this is one of the cult Scottish author's finest efforts to date.

Skagboys revisits the sunny port of Leith and adjoining Edinburgh, and the eclectic cast of characters that made up Welsh's debut effort - the drugged-out classic Trainspotting. All your skeevy old pals are here... ever-acerbic Mark Renton, sweet natured Spud, scheming Sickboy and, naturally, the delightfully psychotic pugilist, Begbie. Only this time, we meet Leith's finest schemies in their early twenties - just as they're developing that nasty little heroin habit which was the focal point of Trainspotting.

So yes, it's a prequel to Trainspotting, featuring characters that should be familiar to fans of the earlier book or its cinematic adaptation. But, as always, Welsh is not afraid to delve a little deeper. While on the surface a simple story of a hopeless descent into addiction, the novel also chronicles the sad devolution of the working class in dystopian mid-eighties Scotland.

It's quite interesting, but also quite depressing, to bear witness to the slow ravaging of blue collar Scottish society, whose denizens turn to drugs and violence to numb the economic and social hardships incurred by the rise of Maggie's Farm. The novel also deals with the rampant incursion of AIDS into Edinburgh - once Europe's AIDS capital - which spreads all too rapidly through shared needle use and illicit sex.

If you're a fan of Trainspotting, or it's excellent sequel Porno (which revisits our anti-heroes in their mid thirties) then I simply can't recommend this read enough. In the off chance you've read some of Welsh's other works, and haven't got around to Trainspotting, then I'd advise you to start here. Be warned, though - as with all the author's works, this is definitely NOT for the faint of heart.

Vintage Welsh. It's a good thing.
Profile Image for Melanie Page.
Author 4 books84 followers
January 31, 2019
Irvine Welsh takes readers back to the days before Trainspotting. Exactly how did so many young people end up on heroin? Not just taking, but completely addicted, destroying personal relationships, and with no major fear of AIDS, which is all over Edinburgh, dubbed the AIDS capital of Europe?

Welsh makes no easy connections for readers. When Renton's chronically ill (with practically every chronic illness a person can be born with) brother dies, Renton notes his relief, relief at an end to the embarrassment his brother caused him, the love and attention his parents poured over one of their sons, and late-night choking. Even at the end of the novel, you can gently pull some strings of the web together, but Welsh will not make it straightforward, because that's not how life works.

I wish I had learned more about some of the characters to get a jist of how they ended up with their unique personalities. Not necessarily why they chose heroin, but why does Sick Boy connect sex with manhood? And where did he get the name Sick Boy? I would assume it was due to his habit, but he has it before he starts using. Same thing with Spud; how does such a tender person end up friends with bullies like Sick Boy and Begbie?

Mostly, though, I gave the book four stars because Welsh starts something with the women of Transpotting, a bit of their beginnings, in Skagboys, but doesn't follow through to satisfaction. We meet Lizzie and Allison, but each only get a few chapters compared to the male characters, even minor ones. Allison is memorable as the woman who has a baby and lets it die in Trainspotting. It's such a pivotal moment that she deserves more space in Skagboys.

Lastly, I love that at the end of the book Renton acknowledges the pitiful state of his and Sick Boy's lives and says it's not like some famous person is going to come along and make a movie of their lives. Har fucking har, Mr. Welsh. But also funny.
Profile Image for Ray.
Author 16 books291 followers
February 28, 2023
The prequel to the epic Trainspotting saga, which is now... at least five books now by my count?

That's a lot of stories about these guys, from the groundbreaking 90s novel which at the time felt like a perfect one-off. Author Irvine Welsh has been drawing from that well for a long long while, and he does it extremely well, but it's hard to say if this book feels necessary or not.

It is more explicitly political than the original, directly blaming Thatcher for the economic conditions which led to rampant drug addiction in Scotland in the 80s. It starts off with Renton in college, and ends with many scenes taking place in rehab. The novel still mostly structured like a series of interconnected short stories, some of them as grotesque yet hilarious as only Welsh could write.

Psycho Franco, manipulative pimp Sick Boy, and poor well-meaning loser Spud; they're all there with deeper dives into what makes the characters tick. If you want more of these characters, you will very much get it.

Welsh's novels tend to reference each other, and it's a must-read in that sense, but doesn't quite have the power and timelessness of Trainspotting. I'd still only recommend that one to fans of the film. Skagboys is also better than the first sequel Porno, a lot better than Franco's solo excursion Blade Artist, but perhaps not as good a read as the finale Dead Men's Trousers.

If this was its own book, its own thing that came out without any others and without expectations, it could be a masterpiece of junkie drama. Yet, comparisons can't be avoided, so this is mainly for the devoted fans at this point.
Profile Image for Hugh Dufour.
42 reviews6 followers
March 16, 2019
Great prequel to that greatest of novels, Trainspotting. I started reading this one with few expectations, thinking it couldn't be anything else than inferior to its sequel; it wasn't, only different. As Irvine Welsh says, Trainspotting is about "what happened" and Skagboys is about "how it happened". In that vein, the author succeeds admirably. A fascinating story about growing up in the height of Thatcherite society--where there is no society--this is a lesson in Hobbesian anarchy. The characters, as usual with Welsh, are all convincing and well drawn-out. They actually feel real and we get to understand them all, except maybe Begbie, who is out of the spotlight here. Spud, Renton, Sick-Boy and Allison are all quite endearing, surprisingly for Sick-Boy, whom I've always had an aversion to. Kudos for this book, IW--it's shocking, entertaining, enlightening (yes!) and touching. Please read it. It's definitely barry.
Profile Image for McKinley.
Author 3 books13 followers
March 21, 2013
This is one of the best fucking books I've ever read. 20 years ago I said the same thing about Trainspotting. I've come full circle following the Irvine train since then, and I'll always be a Welshian. I may write a full review once I've regained the ability to form sentences. Or rather the sense that I've any right or need to form them after this man puts the final dot on the page. There is much to be said about this book, but I don't know that I am the one to say any of it, or if I even want to try. I'm still coming down. I may never touch bottom. Read this book if it's the last thing you do.
Profile Image for Rob.
689 reviews95 followers
May 7, 2014
It's been a long time – 15 years? – since I read Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, but its prequel, Skagboys, feels even better, at once more ambitious, darker, and funnier than its predecessor. Focusing once again on the same four characters (Mark Renton, Simon "Sick Boy" Williamson, Spud, and Begbie), Welsh relates the story of how three of them first got hooked on heroin in the mid-1980s, while he simultaneously critiques class warfare, Margaret Thatcher's United Kingdom, and Scottish national identity.

Told more or less in a series of vignettes, what Welsh does exceedingly well here is detail their descent into addiction (especially Renton and Sick Boy) as a reaction to the disgust they feel with themselves – pleasurable anesthesia that distracts them from all the things they hate when they look in the mirror. This level of addiction is something I'll never understand, but after reading Skagboys I kind of get it. Oblivion is nice, right? There's a certain appeal to knowing your only obligation in life is finding your next fix. But what Welsh definitely doesn't do is glamorize heroin addiction, which was the rap against Trainspotting. As the characters gradually become more fixated on the spike in their veins (to paraphrase Lou Reed), there's no attempt to pretty up the corresponding decay in the rest of their lives. Welsh is, like always, not afraid to go dark, and I found myself relating to the characters – Renton, especially, a college kid who really should know better – with varying degrees of disgust and disappointment.

It's a rough read, but it's also laugh-out-loud funny in places (their climactic scheme to steal a factory's worth of morphine is hysterical and horrifying at the same time), and Welsh's use of Scottish vernacular ("Totally skint, man, n the bread trap ay Christmas n New Year looms. It's a awfay scene. Mind you, everybody's in the same boat. Begbie comes roond the gaff, n yuv nivir seen a rooster in such a foul mood, ken?" begins one chapter) is as vibrant as ever. I need to reacquaint myself with the rest of his stuff, but right now Skagboys feels like the best thing Welsh has ever written.
Profile Image for Tina.
556 reviews17 followers
August 15, 2019
It's a huge book - 548 pages - and takes a while to get into - with the Scottish brogue and all - but well worth it. I loved the characters - Renton and Sick Boy and Spud. Even though they do some terrible things, they have redeeming qualities that some of Irvine Welsh's characters do not. I had stopped reading Welsh novels for a while because I found them just too crass, but Skagboys reminded me why I love him.
It's a long and meandering book - often you think it's going nowhere - but the detail and ordinariness of the lives portrayed is hugely fascinating. I especially loved the diaries from rehab section. By the time I got to that part, I didn't want it to end!
Looking forward to going back and re-reading Trainspotting now....
Profile Image for Lisa Dolatowski.
36 reviews
July 7, 2013
I loved this book! Makes you laugh and makes you cry.
I loved the way the author got into the politics and the rise of the herion epidemic in the 1980's. Take note David Cameron!
The perfect prequel to Trainspotting. you feel like you know Mark & Co. I wonder what they would be doing now....

Profile Image for Phil.
1,625 reviews104 followers
March 23, 2023
The prequel to Trainspotting introduces us to the characters and their lives in Edinburgh; more specifically, their lives before and shortly after they discovered skag. Skagboys takes a little patience as Welsh does not hold back on the Scottish slang here and the prose is written phonetically to capture it, but it comes off easily enough after a wee bit.

Skagboys takes place in 1984 and perhaps the thing I liked best was the acerbic reflections on how Maggie's 'reforms' hollowed out an entire generation. Mark Renton, or 'Rents', our main protagonist, starts the book with a journal entry (which he penned in rehab, but that comes much later in the book) where he depicts going with his da to a strike in England, which is brutally suppressed via a cop riot. Of the 'group' that Rents hangs out with, he is the only one on track for social success, attending Uni in Aberdeen, nice girlfriend, and a bland middle class existence stretching out in front of him. Most of his mates are still kicking around the old stomping grounds, hanging out in pubs, chasing lassies, and being generally ne'er-do-wells, even when they are all around 21 or so, going on about fitba and such. What changes the game is skag...

On the one hand, Skagboy makes for some fun reading as Welsh laces in no small amount of humor and absurd situations, but on the other hand, this reads as a tragedy of no small proportions. Welsh gives us no small dose of existentialism here. Why skag? Because it gives a great buzz and you just don't care any more. This was a bit hard to read as I lost several friends to skag in the 80s early 90s, watching them waste away and just not giving a fuck any more about anything except the next hit. To give him credit, Welsh really nails it here, as he depicts Rents and company going down that rabbit hole. The backdrop of the hopelessness of the Maggie era perhaps gave the kick, and most of the characters here had 'reasons' to toss in the towel to some degree (deaths in the family, etc.), but Welsh does not hide behind some excuse here; these folks took skag and liked it, full stop, and their lives turned to shit.

Powerful, albeit depressing read. Yeah, the antics of the junkies were cuttingly amusing at times; Sick Boy pimping out one of his neighbors for skag (she being 16 and all), all kinds of schemes to find ways to get the cash for their next hit. The existentialist musings in rehab, where most of them found themselves for a wee bit. Not sure, however, what the main takeaway was, hence the 3 stars. Yes, we emphasize with the junkies to some degree and their various trials and travails in life, but is that it? After a cop talked down one of the junkies from a suicide jump by telling him it gets better, Rents asks him it it is really true and the cop is like, 'naw, but you get used to the shite'. Memorable, but depressing and nihilistic to say the least. Whew! I can see why people love this book, and it does give a super account of a brutal time period in the UK. The music references are spot on to boot, but not my cuppa.
Profile Image for Guy Portman.
Author 13 books309 followers
February 22, 2018
Skagboys is the prequel to Trainspotting. Its colourful, mostly young characters hail from the Edinburgh port suburb of Leith. There is the bookish, unambitious Mark ‘Rents’ Renton, and his best friend, the verbose, predatory womaniser Sick Boy. Others include harmless, accident-prone Spud, overweight ginger Keezbo, and the pathologically violent Franco Begbie.

The friends get up to numerous, often humorous escapades, entailing drinking, partying, bedding members of the opposite sex, pranks at work and more besides. Protagonist Renton has a spell at university and a period travelling abroad. But the main focus is Renton, Sick Boy and other’s increasing obsession with heroin. Their lives soon descend to a continual cycle of getting high and then searching for their next fix before the sickness takes hold. Be it the superior white powder purchased from Swanney, or the inferior ‘braun’, their rapacious appetites for chasing, sniffing and shooting can never be satiated.

Skagboys is a work of Transgressive Fiction set in the 1980s against a backdrop of Thatcherism, the rise of dance of music and HIV. The extensive employment of Scottish vernacular makes traversing this tome (548 pages) challenging yet rewarding.

Irvine Welsh is an idiosyncratic writer who thrives on breaking literary rules. Examples here include the utilisation of dashes as a substitute for speech marks, a handwritten font in places, and switching back and forth between various first-person perspectives. There are also passages presented in the third person. Despite the risks associated with this highly ambitious approach, the author succeeds in creating a compelling story that, with the exception of some rehab-related diary entries, never feels turgid.

This reader was mesmerised by the lurid descriptions, dark humour, diverse prose, and the memorable, amoral characters. He would highly recommend Skagboys to all fans of the transgressive genre.
Profile Image for Richie.
11 reviews14 followers
February 19, 2018
Written as a prequel to Welsh's debut novel, Trainspotting, Skagboys is about Mark Renton and his friends as they descend into heroin addiction in 1980s Scotland. It's told in a series of vignettes from the point of view of many different characters. Like Welsh's other works, it is written completely in Scots dialect and does take some getting used to.
I’ve read many reviews saying that it’s better to read Trainspotting before this one but reading this first really did not hinder my enjoyment of the novel at all. I loved this book a lot more than I thought I would. I didn’t think Welsh could top the first novel of his I’d read, Filth, but I was proven wrong. This book is so enjoyable to read. The character's interactions are hilarious but the book is also depressing at the same time as we see a promising young man turn to addiction. The characters are brilliantly written and you can’t help but empathize with them even in their situation. All of the characters are written with their own distinct voices so well that even when the view point switches, you don't need to be told who is narrating. This book was definitely a page turner and didn't leave me bored for a second. I am definitely planning on picking up the next books in the series.
467 reviews8 followers
June 15, 2019
Do we need another book about Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie? Maybe not. Did Welsh break into any new territory? No. I guess it's just the same old sex and drugs and sex and drugs and violence and drugs but I have to admit I loved it. It it Trainspotting good? No, but Trainspotting was an original and we'll never have the same rush again as that first hit of Welsh. I found this prequel much more engaging than Porno, the sequel to Trainspotting. After reading all three books I can only wonder what the boys and girls might be up to now that they are in their 40's. It would be interesting to see if Welsh has the range to take the saga all the way.

Update 2019: Welsh most certainly did take it all the way, perhaps ending the saga with "Dead Men's Trousers." Or maybe not. Only time will tell.
Profile Image for Pippa.
27 reviews2 followers
April 23, 2012
I was unsure whether a prequel to Trainspotting could ever live up to expectations but was pleasantly surprised. Welsh has constructed a brilliant journey with the highs, lows and unpleasantness that we have come to expect. As always there are some spectacularly emotional, aggravating and of course disgusting scenes. The book is made all the more poignant knowing full well that the characters downwards spirals and attempts to escape their predicaments will never come to fruition having grown so attached them in Trainspotting.
Profile Image for Sara.
4 reviews
May 17, 2012
Despite the mixed reviews I had seen, I love the 'Trainspotting' boys and it was good to add to ther backstories with this prequel. Not as jovial as 'Porno' but with some fabulous gallows humour in places and when he tries, Mr Welsh describes his home town of Edina with a wonderfully bleak turn of phrase. A quality read, likeasay catboy :)
Profile Image for Lucia Caporalini.
73 reviews32 followers
March 24, 2017
Reading the last pages of this book was almost like living through a religious experience. All these characters never felt so real to me as they did in those last few lines. Having known them for the last ten years of my life (more or less) through the books and the movies, I thought they didn't have any secrets to me anymore, but I was oh so wrong. When I started reading Skagboys, I immediatly realized it was special. Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, Tommy, Alison, Hazel - they became more real than ever. I got to know how they were before - before heroin, despair, delusion, pain, fear, anger and betrayal. I listened to them, I started to understand them, I felt what they felt, and I learnt a lot about myself, too. Reaching the last pages led to the awareness that even if these characters lived in a completely different social/historical/cultural environment from the one I live in, I hadn't felt so connected with someone as I did with them in a very long time. I can't wait to re-read Trainspotting and Porno.
Profile Image for Fede.
205 reviews
July 2, 2021
Rambling and digressing on Irvine Welsh's "Skagboys"
feat. Margaret Thatcher's ghost


First things first: I hardly ever read sequels or prequels. Let's be honest about that, whenever an author turns his masterpiece into a series of novels and keeps getting back to the same characters and/or places, money is what he's after. And rightly so. If I had the chance to live out of my writing, I would definitely be just as greedy. I'd literally whore myself in order to have my stuff published.
However, as a fan of Trainspotting, Generation X's bible and literary milestone and the greatest achievement of postmodern realism - I didn't want it to be shamefully desecrated. Published in 1993 and written mostly in the Scottish dialect, it depicts the 90s underworld of junk addiction, AIDS, petty crime and ordinary desperation left by a decade of rampant Neo Liberal policies better than any other novel ever did. In fact it took me years to overcome my hesitations and finally get to reading its 2012 prequel, afraid as I was to see my prejudice fully confirmed by yet another crappy mass-market operation.
I must admit I had been terribly wrong about this one.
I wouldn't say "Skagboys" is better than "Trainspotting", but it's definitely just as good, although on a different, more literary plane, whereas Welsh's debut novel clearly strikes a visceral chord. So the overall artistic level is high in both books, the differences being in the peculiar aesthetics of the writing rather than in its quality.


What can't be overlooked in "Skagboys" is indeed the way Welsh focuses on the background: his descriptive skills and masterful atmospheric writing are remarkable. This is the story of how and why the characters we meet in "Trainspotting" made such a shambles of their lives. Therefore this choral novel is not only beautifully written, what with its thousand voices and the use of the Scottish dialect; it's also hugely informative, with the story interspersed with a series of short essay-style chapters aptly titled "Notes on an Epidemic".
Needless to say, this one is much more politically charged, due to the way narration and character development are intended to show how some of the social plagues of the 80s were partly due to the Neo-liberal assault on the public sphere.
Welsh's point seems to be that Thatcher's unfettered version of Reaganomics didn't only pave the way for such devastation; it also provided the most self-loathing, vulnerable, hopeless and potentially horrible people with the most dangerous revelation: that they had nothing left to lose. They had already reached the bottom; the system had beaten them to a pulp. There was neither a past nor a future worth suffering the present.


One thing I was afraid of before I actually started reading "Skagboys" was what I thought would be the inevitable outcome of such a premise: people aren't really bad, or - if they are - it's not their fault. It's society's. It's the system's. It's the Leviathan's.
No way, said Maggie T. Do not dare blame the others for your inadequacy, you cunts.
No way, says Irvine Welsh: do not believe that self-indulgent bullshit. Voltaire was shamelessly sectarian while Rousseau was either a hypocrite or jerk who deliberately deluded himself on what being human actually means, so please forget all that crap.
Theres good and bad in mankind, and Welsh's characters are forever plunging their hands in what lies in between. Cruel, stupid, lazy, arrogant, dumb, bewildered, lost. The selfishness of need and the need for selfishness.
Such are the outcasts of a society that no longer exists.


On the other hand, it would be hard to deny that Scotland in the mid-Eighties was Margaret's skeleton in the closet, the place where the rivers of milk and honey promised by her aggressive denial of the very concept of society would never flow - and maybe were never even meant to.
Looking back, it's easy to figure out the chain of events leading to such a defeat; how the atmosphere of hopelessness of those years engendered all sorts of individual as well as social catastrophes of immense proportions in the worst-off areas of Scotland (even more so than in Northern Ireland, where I'm told the IRA would take care of drug dealers by shooting them in the legs. No beating around the bush in Béal Feirste). So, while the drastic cuts in social spending, welfare and public healthcare and housing were bringing the terrifyingly increasing number of the unemployed to their knees, cheap heroin started to flood the streets of Edinburgh.
Now, the violent repression of the miners' strike (1984) with which the book opens had already given an idea of Donna Margherita's benevolence; she had made it clear once and for all there was no Caravan of Love to join. Then, in order to put the government's draconian policy into practice, a new set of disastrous measures were introduced as if to prepare the ground for the impending tragedy. On with further cuts in public housing, schooling, healthcare and employment benefit. The de-skilled workers were either sacked by their employers or forced to accept part-time jobs, while the unemployed youth - mostly raised by alcoholic fathers themselves - inexorably surrendered to the relief provided by drugs, alcohol and violence.
There was no way out, whereas the way in was getting wider and wider. No information, no social campaigns, no help centres; junkies were sub-human garbage, their families were parasites, HIV was a fags' problem and therefore didn't concern respectable people (namely the tax payers). To top it off, the needle exchange centre in Tollcross was shut down; in a few days shooting galleries (places where heroin users gather and share syringes) were already scattered all over the city.
Not surprisingly, Edinburgh was soon awarded the title of AIDS capital of Europe.

Irresponsible policies? Criminal negligence? Psychotic stubbornness? Maybe someone was a little bit heavy-handed? Naaaah, what the hell, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.


Hail Maggie.
Profile Image for Ubik 2.0.
920 reviews223 followers
June 9, 2015
“Nel giro di un paio di generazioni non gliene fregherà un cazzo a nessuno…”

“… Saremo solo dei poveri segaioli vestiti strani in foto sbiadite che un discendente patetico, con del tempo da perdere, ogni tanto tira fuori dall’armadio per dargli un’occhiata. Non me lo vedo qualche stronzo famoso che gli viene in mente di fare un film sulle nostre vite, vero?”

Con Google Map cercavo i luoghi edinburghesi incontrati in questo romanzo e sono finito su West Pilton Rise (la stradina in cui Frank Begbie conduce gli altri a una spedizione punitiva).
Come al solito, quando si avventura in zone poco raccomandabili, la camera-car di Google Map riproduce la luce livida di riprese effettuate all’alba in strade pressoché deserte. Eppure sono lì, fra i casermoni e le casette tutte uguali e monocolori, due tizi barcollanti, uno tarchiato e uno smilzo che ammicca verso la telecamera con una bottiglia di birra in mano in un atteggiamento un po’ di scherno un po’ di vana minaccia…

Sono evidentemente Renton e Sick Boy, oppure Spud o Keezbo, o altri personaggi di questo formidabile affresco che ha il solo limite di sfruttare la fama di Trainspotting, di cui costituisce un prequel, e del film che “qualche stronzo famoso” ne ha tratto, per tornare sul luogo del delitto anzi nel momento stesso del delitto, quando grazie anche alla politica della Thatcher “centinaia di migliaia di giovani dei ceti popolari del Regno Unito si trovarono con meno soldi nelle tasche e molto più tempo nelle mani”, con le prevedibili conseguenze.

Mai, a mia conoscenza, un autore ha saputo riprodurre con tale efficacia la crisi post beat, post hippy, post tutto dei giovani inglesi (ma con qualche ingrediente in più o in meno potrebbero essere francesi, tedeschi, italiani o americani…) a metà degli anni ’80, un mix micidiale di disoccupazione, eroina, alcool, noia esistenziale, sesso, violenza dentro e fuori gli stadi, che avrebbe devastato un’intera generazione e compromesso il futuro delle successive.

In questo iperrealistico habitat, in mezzo alla tempesta di volgarità del gergo* edinburghese/leithiano (così esclusivo che perfino nella vicina Glasgow dovettero proiettare T. con i sottotitoli), alle camminate senza meta fra i pub su e giù per il Walk, al sesso più sordido ed estremo per contrastare l’incipiente impotenza da droghe, Irvine Welsh riesce miracolosamente a infondere, oltre all’ironia, alla crudeltà e alla spregiudicatezza che gli sono tipiche, anche poesia e commozione, con improvvisi slanci di generosità nel mare di squallide vigliaccherie di chi vive solo in funzione della sopravvivenza nel presente.

*che tour-de-force per il bravo traduttore Bocchiola!
Profile Image for Michael || TheNeverendingTBR.
468 reviews161 followers
October 22, 2020
The first Irvine Welsh book I've read.

I absolutely loved it!! Pure barry man, ye ken?

When people ask me, what's the funniest book you've ever read I always say Choke by Chuck Palahniuk but now this definitely takes first place; I laughed out loud with that Claudia Rosenberg bit at the end.

It's not all laughs though as it's depraved and sad also, but that can be expected I suppose.

The insults are priceless!

I've probably seen the adaptation of Trainspotting over 100 times, never read the book though; Skagboys is the prequel book to that.

Throughout reading this I'm thinking to myself, how does anyone outside of Scotland understand this slang? (it's easy for me though, being Scottish and understand every word and even know similar people, especially of the Begbie kind) 😂

I'm going to make it a goal of mine to read every Irvine Welsh book I can get ma mittens oan.

I've always been meaning to read the Mark Renton series so here we go, straight onto the second book - Trainspotting!
31 reviews1 follower
May 20, 2012
Having visited Irvine Welsh's website I couldn’t help but smugly chortle at the irony of the unfortunate placement of his two most recent titles, "Reheated Cabbage" and "Skagboys"(his *third return to Renton & co.), side by side.

So what makes this outing any different?

In short absolutely nothing. Coming in at close to 550 pages the book is a very laborious rehash of "boy meets drugs". In fact the only reason I actually finished the book was so I wouldn't concede ground to a hipster defence of, "it really picked up" or "you never gave it a chance". Skagboys is by far Welsh’s most tired, leggy and phoned in effort to date with tiresome shock tactics regularly inserted to keep a paint by numbers narrative ticking over. Where’s Trainspotting was a compact succinct collection of vignettes packed with humour and interesting characters and anecdotes, Skagboys reads like a taxi man’s parody filled with long winded tales, soapbox social commentary and caricature larger than life personas.
Character development is non-existent with Renton reduced to nothing more than a whiny continuous loop of his “choose life” rant, Sick Boy a grating scumbag-with-a-heart-buried-beneath-the-Skag enigma the reader is patronised into feeling empathy for, Spud is eh likesay eh Spud and Alison a watered down Renton with a fanny. In fact the entire ensemble are really only there to serve as plot devices and points of interaction for Renton.

Of course being an Irvine Welsh book Skagboys is still full of clever patter and some nice turn of phrase which show he is still more than capable. However, on this occasion it’s hard to argue Welsh has not succumbed to his own famous George Best analogy of, “had it, lost it”. I’ve no doubt Skagboys will still be lauded by diehards as a masterpiece with any criticism considered to be nothing more than “Guardian leftism”. However, if you’re really honest with yourself and look beyond the reminisce-package clap trap you’ll see that Skagboys isn’t so much revisiting the golden years of Tenerife with the lads as heading to Blackpool with your Auntie.
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