FILTH by Irvine Welsh

FILTH

KIRKUS REVIEW

The third and most willfully irreverent novel yet from Scotland’s answer to William Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr., and, arguably, Howard Stern. Here’s a long howl of hatred and misogyny uttered at full foulmouthed throttle by Bruce Robertson, an Edinburgh police detective whose investigation of a presumably racially motivated murder only intermittently distracts him from routine pursuits of extramarital sex, illegal drugs, and officially sanctioned mayhem. Though he’s nominally a member of the establishment, Bruce has all the qualities one hopes for in an Irvine Welsh character: he’s loud, boorish, xenophobic, racist, sexist, alcoholic, stridently profane, and tormented by flaming eczema (afflicting his not-so-private parts). Oh, and there’s a tapeworm—which occasionally takes over the narrative when Bruce himself isn’t speaking from his gut, as does also estranged wife Carole, a basically normal human who hopes for a reconciliation but doesn’t neglect to take a lover in the meantime. This latter fact is skillfully made crucial to the rather busy plot, which is nicely varied by Bruce’s embattled relationships with disapproving superiors, Racial Awareness sensitivity training, and the willing wives of his fellow officers. The relentlessly confrontational book comes to raucous life in its more abusive and violent scenes (Bruce’s sexual exploitation of a teenaged hooker; a Rabelaisian “holiday” in Amsterdam; a bit of bestiality, involving Bruce’s favorite prostitute and a collie named Angus, that goes hilariously awry).But it founders when Welsh gives his loutish antihero unconvincing moments of reflection (“I feel entrapped by my lust, but when I actually get round to doing it, it just seems so pointless and tedious”), and especially when, in the overcrowded closing pages, the sources of Bruce’s pathology are located in his memories of a grotesque father and of a first love who was killed by lightning. Some marvelous writing, but little of substance that Welsh hasn’t already done better, notably in Trainspotting (1996) and the superb Marabou Stork Nightmares (1996). One wonders if he has written himself out.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-393-31868-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998




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