Trainspotting (novel)

From Academic Kids

Trainspotting (1993) is a novel by Irvine Welsh focussing primarily on a group of heroin addicts in Leith, Scotland. Welsh also adapted it into a play. The novel's tone ranges from cynical black comedy to visceral horror to genuine empathy for its characters.

The novel became a huge underground hit on release and gained mainstream attention once the film of the same name was released in 1996, starring Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle. A sequel to this novel, called Porno, was released in 2002.

Non-native English speakers might find the language in this book rather difficult to understand as it is partially written in a form of dialect.


Plot Summary

The novel is divided into seven sections, each of which (except the seventh) contain multiple chapters which are characterized by a defined narrational perspective, varying from 1st to 3rd person.

Each character narrates differently, in a fashion comparable to stream-of-consciousness or representative of psychological realism, for example, Spud will refer to people internally as cats (Begbie is a jungle cat, while he himself is a house cat), and Sick Boy will entertain an inner-dialogue between himself and Sean Connery. Renton's chapters are written phonetically forcefully conveying a thick Scottich accent, while Davie's single chapter (Bad Blood) is absent of any such style, despite both being Scottish.

Unlike the movie it inspired, the novel's plot is not linear. Characters are often introduced without backstory and, in some cases, exist independently of Renton and/or heroin abuse (eg. Nina, Kelly, Davey). Several characters only appear in one chapter despite being the key figure within it. Due to these features a plot summary of the entire novel would appear something like this:

Section 1: Kicking

The Skag Boys, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mother Superior - Narrated by Renton. Mark and Simon (aka Sick Boy) are watching a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie when they decide to go buy heroin from Johnny Swan (aka Mother Superior) since they are both feeling symptoms of withdrawal. They cook up with Raymie (who kisses Sick Boy on the mouth) and Alison (who states that heroin "beats any meat injection in the whole fucking world"). After being informed that he should go see Kelly, who's just had an abortion, Renton instead eagerly returns home to watch the rest of his movie.

Junk Dilemmas No. 63 - Narrated by Renton presumably. A short (less than a page) piece comparing his high to an internal sea, while noting: "more short-term sea, more long-term poison".

The First Day of the Edinburgh Festival - Narrated by Renton. Mark initially makes an attempt to come off heroin by acquiring a bare room and all the things he'll require when coming down. When withdrawal begins to set in he resolves to get another hit to ease the decline. He acquires opium suppositories from Mikey Forrester which he must then recover from a toilet after releasing them by accident (a notable scene recreated for the film).

In Overdrive - Narrated by Sick Boy. Simon attempts to pick up girls while being annoyed by Mark, who wants to watch videos. Sick Boy loses Renton and launches into an internal self-glorifying yet nihilistic, universally indicting diatribe.

Growing Up in Public - 3rd person narration following Nina, Mark's cousin. Nina is with her family after her Uncle Andy's recent death. She initially feigns indifference but then breaks down without even realizing it.

Victory on New Year's Day - 3rd person narration following Stevie. At a party consisting of almost all the key characters in the novel, Stevie can't stop thinking about his girlfriend withwhom he has been on the outs. They optimistically reunite at the train station following a couple phone calls.

It Goes without Saying - Narrated by Renton. Lesley's baby, Dawn, has died. Simon cries, as Dawn was his daughter, while Mark cooks Lesley a hit.

The novel is basically a series of short stories. Each chapter focusses on a given event and does not necessarily contribute to Mark's eventual betrayal. For example, some chapters focus on Renton's sexual morality: in one chapter an old man masturbates onto him while he's sleeping, and in another he has sex with his dead brother's pregnant girlfriend in the bathroom during his brother's funeral.

However, drug abuse (both heroin and alcohol) is certainly the main issue dealt with. The novel explores what causes drug abuse and what sustains it in its many forms. Many chapters focus on Mark's continuous attempts to kick the habit and their accompanying relapses. The novel ends rather ambiguously with Renton betraying his friends and heading for Amsterdam with money they'd all acquired from a drug deal.

Other stories in the novel concern other residents of the suburb only peripherally involved with the main characters. One such story concerns Davie, an HIV-positive acquaintance of Renton's, who befriends the man who raped his girlfriend and gave her the virus she gave to him, as part of a plan to get revenge; another centers around a barmaid who has a crush on Renton but shies away from his drug use.

The novel heavily references bands that influenced Welsh's writing, including David Bowie, Joy Division, the Pogues and especially Iggy Pop, whom all the characters idolize.


  • Mark Renton (aka Rents, the Rent Boy) - Heroin addict who has rejected society's values.
  • Simon Williamson (aka Sick Boy, Si) - Egotistical, sadistic playboy. A professed jazz purist.
  • Danny Murphy (aka Spud) - A simple idealist who loves animals and is also a heroin addict.
  • Tommy
  • Gav Temperly
  • Billy Renton - Mark's older brother.
  • Lizzy
  • Nina - Marks's cousin.
  • Davie - HIV-positive without ever taking drugs.
  • Kelly - Friend of Alison and a bartender.
  • Alison
  • Lesley - Mother of dead baby Dawn
  • Baby Dawn - Dead daughter of Lesley and Sick Boy.

ISBN numbers


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