Irvine Welsh

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Trainspotting Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh was born in Leith, a port area in northern Edinburgh, Scotland, that serves as the setting for many of his works. He grew up in public housing, and his mother worked as a waitress while his father worked as a dock worker and died when Welsh was young. In the 1970s, Welsh moved to London and sang in punk bands. He returned to Edinburgh in the 1980s for his MBA. Soon after, he began publishing stories in small, independent journals; eventually these stories would become part of Trainspotting. The full novel came out in 1993 and was an immediate success, with the 1996 film adaptation bringing even greater attention to Welsh’s work. While his debut remains his best-known work, Welsh has also received acclaim for his other works, which include over dozen novels, several short story collections, and a few plays and screenplays. A newspaper article published shortly before the wide release of the film Trainspotting called some aspects of Welsh’s early biography into question, suggesting in particular that a police report listed his birth year as 1951, not 1958. Welsh currently lives in London and Edinburgh, spending winters in Miami Beach.
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Historical Context of Trainspotting

The novel is inspired partly by Welsh’s own experiences growing up in Leith and moving back in the 1980s. During that time, Scotland experienced high unemployment. The sometimes-contentious history between Scotland and England serves as a backdrop for much of the novel. During the early Middle Ages, Scotland was an independent kingdom. When England invaded in 1296, Scotland fought for independence in wars that lasted for several decades. Eventually, however, England and Scotland united to become Great Britain in 1706. More recently, some have called for Scotland to become independent again, starting in the 19th century and continuing to the present day.

Other Books Related to Trainspotting

With its focus on psychology and shocking subject matter, Trainspotting resembles modernist novels of the late 19th and early 20th century. Welsh has listed Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and James Joyce’s Ulysses as two of his biggest inspirations. His novel also bears some similarities to Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, with also makes heavy use of slang (albeit a fictional one) and focuses on reckless youth culture. Trainspotting references several albums, including Sunshine on Leith by the Proclaimers, which is most famous for the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” and focuses on the same time and place as Welsh’s novel (late 1980s Leigh, Edinburgh, Scotland).
Key Facts about Trainspotting
  • Full Title: Trainspotting
  • When Written: Late 1980s and early 1990s
  • Where Written: Edinburgh, Scotland
  • When Published: 1993
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Story Collection, Dark Comedy
  • Setting: Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Climax: Rent Boy runs off with his friends’ money.
  • Antagonist: Begbie
  • Point of View: The point of view shifts between first person (with different narrators) and third person.

Extra Credit for Trainspotting

He Found His Calling. Irvine Welsh has said the strangest job he had before he became a writer was calling numbers for bingo. His uniform was a sequined shirt and sequined pants.

One Fear. Irvine Welsh’s greatest fear used to be that he’d never see his favorite soccer team, Hibernian, win the Scottish Cup. After it happened in 2016, he changed his biggest fear to being trapped in a coma.