A Decent Ride by Irvine Welsh

Our Rating

The Observer, May 2015

Jonty MacKay tries to make love to a corpse, momentarily put off when gas belches out from her mouth, followed by a fly. But Jonty isn’t even the most sexually addicted character in Irvine Welsh’s latest lascivious look at Edinburgh lowlife. Corkscrew-haired, tracksuit-wearing taxi driver “Juice” Terry Lawson is obsessed with it, always on the hunt for a “fit burd” to take back to his “shaggin pad”. Right from the very first chapter, where Juice Terry not only offers a Donald Trump-style American businessman “any nook and cranny” but performs a disgracefully off-colour eulogy at a funeral – before bedding one of the mourners – this is Welsh in classic provocateur mode.

Dedicated Welsh fans will remember Juice Terry from Glue and short story collection Reheated Cabbage, in which his disgracefully absurd behaviour belied a relatively decent heart – a common Welshian trope. Whether he can actually carry a 480-page narrative himself is a moot point, however, as his blackly comic scrapes with the American, Terry’s difficulties overseeing a “sauna”, and a scabrous relationship with his father become more and more ridiculous.

But the worst thing that can happen to this dodgy dealing taxi driver is a ban on sex, and when disaster strikes, a few chapters follow from the point of view of Terry’s horrified and unused penis. The text is arranged in the shape of “old faithful” as he moans “ye see, Terry, if you’re no daein any ridin, dinnae expect me tae sit in scabby keks sweatin like an old piece ay cheese”. Lovely.

To be fair, it’s a naive reader indeed who would open an Irvine Welsh book described as his “filthiest” yet and still feel shocked by this stuff. A C-bomb is thrown into nearly every sentence of the vernacular dialogue that Welsh has such an ear for, but the by-product is that the characterisation of lowlife Edinburgh hustlers is superb. The overlong story, less so – Terry’s various predicaments resolved far too easily.

Still, while it’s no Trainspotting (although Sick Boy does have a walk-on role), Welsh is still finding fertile ground in the fetid streets of Edinburgh, more than 20 years on.

The Breakdown

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