The dangerous symbiotic relationship embracing two profoundly different protagonists forms the core of Scottish-born Welsh’s seventh novel.
“Environmental Health Officer” Danny Skinner inspects restaurants for the Edinburgh City Council, whenever not drinking to blissful excess or pleasuring himself with gorgeous girlfriend Kay. Danny’s bilious contempt for grandstanding celebrity chef Alan De Fretais (whose bestselling amalgam of culinary and erotic advice provides Welsh’s splendid title) draws the ire of his superiors—and opens doors for his nondescript new colleague Brian Kibby. The latter is an innocuous virginal innocent, whose mystification over Danny’s inexplicable contempt for him is exacerbated by his father’s lingering fatal illness, and its effects on his frail mother, Joyce. When Danny is stricken with a “mystery virus” that seems to replicate his father’s ordeal, Danny feels his arrogant cocksureness begin to crumble (“He had come to regard Kibby as his mirror, a road map of his own mortality”). Attempting to mend his dissolute ways, Danny heads for California to seek the father he never knew—but returns to Edinburgh unenlightened, as Brian (who has made a surprising, if incomplete recovery) falls into a pattern of righteous anger that further complicates their compulsive mutual obsessions. The truth about Danny’s heritage, far darker and more despairing than Danny imagines, is in fact buried in the Kibby family’s history. And it stuns them both with savage ironic force in the novel’s extended climax, provoked by Danny’s romantic interest in Brian’s sister Caroline, and a long-untold story finally rescued from silence. Welsh braids these dramatic particulars together with considerable skill, despite a slackening of intensity in segments narrated by peripheral characters, and the relegation of the title subplot to almost incidental status. Nevertheless, the narrative doesn’t let up, and the hammerblows keep landing.
Something new from the antic provocateur whose recent books have been frustratingly uneven. Welsh’s best since his spectacular debut novel Trainspotting.