Courting Disaster. Rent Boy and Spud are in court. The judge accuses them of stealing books from a bookstore to sell. Rent Boy answers no just as Spud says yes. Rent Boy says his books were for reading. The judge asks him to explain Kierkegaard, so Rent Boy does, only realizing too late that it might be bad to sound too smart. Spud on the other hand, freely admits to selling books in order to buy more heroin.
The scene of Rent Boy and Spud in court intentionally parallels the scene in which they attended the job interview, suggesting that the consequences of both (either a menial job or going to jail) are not all that different. Rent Boy once again tries to manipulate an authority figure by using the judge’s preconceptions about him against the judge.
The judge says that Rent Boy seems to be trying to control his addiction, so he gives him a suspended sentence if he gets addiction treatment, allowing him to walk free. Spud, however, will have to serve six months in prison. Rent Boy passes Spud and apologizes on his way out to meet with his family and friends.
Rent Boy and his family go to the pub and get drunk. Rent Boy’s Ma starts talking about her long, intense menstrual periods, which embarrasses Rent Boy. Begbie and Sick Boy make fun of Rent Boy as a momma’s boy. All of a sudden, Spud’s mother comes over and starts accusing Rent Boy of being the reason Spud is headed to jail. Begbie takes this personally and shouts at her until she leaves the pub. Rent Boy’s Ma says she feels bad for Spud’s mother, but the subject soon changes.
All of the characters except Spud’s mother support Rent Boy’s actions, suggesting that at the end of the day, they too believe that looking out for oneself is more important than being loyal to one’s friends. Even Begbie, who demands that his friends always stay loyal to him, stands up for Rent Boy’s right to look out for his own interests.
Rent Boy and the others relocate to a new pub. Begbie is getting wound up, and Sick Boy encourages him. Sick Boy likes when Begbie says stupid things because everyone impersonates him behind his back, and this gives them more material.
Sick Boy’s taunting of Begbie shows how Sick Boy not only tolerates living a reckless lifestyle but seems to actively enjoy adding additional risks to his life.
At the new pub, Sick Boy points out Planet of the Apes, a man who looks like an extra from Planet of the Apes. Planet of the Apes is very drunk and starts talking to Sick Boy about a blond woman he was with earlier. Sick Boy says that Planet of the Apes can have sex with her for 50 pounds. Rent Boy is shocked that Sick Boy seems to be hiring the woman out for sex. Rent Boy knows her and knows she uses heroin and that she and Sick Boy have been hooking up on and off.
The allusion to Planet of the Apes continues the pattern of pop culture references playing an important part in the story. While the apes in that film were intelligent, this man seems more animalistic and motivated by instinct and libido. Sick Boy’s offer to sell the woman is a logical next step for his character, since he already treats relationships as transactional.
Rent Boy confronts Sick Boy about trying to sell the woman to Planet of the Apes. Sick Boy says if Rent Boy is so righteous, why did he get Tommy into heroin? Rent Boy feels like Tommy had a choice but doesn’t say so. Just then, Tommy himself walks into the pub with Second Prize. Tommy’s appearance makes it clear that he’s switched from speed to heroin. He tries to buy more heroin off Rent Boy, but Rent Boy sends him away. Tommy says he can handle it—Rent Boy has heard this line several times, and he’ll probably use it again himself at some point.
This section builds on Rent Boy’s selfishness established earlier in the courtroom scene by showing the effects of the heroin that Rent Boy gave to Tommy. While Rent Boy doesn’t deserve full responsibility for Spud’s or Tommy’s fates, his lack of active care for his friends seems to be having a ripple effect throughout the whole community.
Even though he’s surrounded by almost everyone he knows, Rent Boy feels alone. People at the pub start reminiscing about Spud. Begbie happens to notice June at the pub and gets mad at her for leaving their kid with her sister. As he goes to the bathroom, Rent Boy feels like it’s been a hard day. He decides maybe he’ll go to Johnny Swan for just one hit.
Rent Boy always prioritizes himself, and this is what ultimately leads him to feel alone. The reference to Johnny Swan is significant because it will be the first time Rent Boy has used heroin since the death of Dawn.
Junk Dilemmas No. 66. Rent Boy thinks it shouldn’t be hard to move, since humans have been doing it since the dawn of time, but for some reason, he can’t.
This section reveals that Rent Boy did in fact get high. The literal paralysis he feels is also the metaphorical paralysis that his addiction creates, stopping him from moving forward in life.
Deid Dugs. Sick Boy sees a skinhead walking a pit bull. He aims an air rifle at him, narrating it all to himself like a James Bond villain, then he decides to aim for the pit bull instead. The dog goes crazy and starts biting its owner, who tries to kick it away.
This section gives just one example of how Sick Boy lives up to his nickname. Sick Boy contrasts sharply with Spud, who wouldn’t hurt a squirrel (but who as a result of his kind nature gets sent away to jail).
The skinhead calls for help, and Sick Boy approaches him with an aluminum baseball bat. He sticks the bat under the dog’s collar and uses it to choke the dog to death. The dead dog still holds onto the skinhead, so Sick Boy pries its mouth open with the bat. When the police arrive, the skinhead praises Sick Boy for intervening. One of the officers asks why Sick Boy has a bat, and Sick Boy says it’s because there have been robberies in his neighborhood lately. The officers accept his answer. Sick Boy is very high and feels that it is a beautiful day.
Sick Boy gains nothing from this encounter other than perhaps his own sadistic pleasure. This passage conveys how Sick Boy thrives on outsmarting people around him and how he can trick people into liking him even when he’s done terrible things to them.
Searching for the Inner Man. While Rent Boy has never gone to jail for heroin, he’s had to go to several counsellors for rehabilitation, and he feels this is also bad. His current psychiatrist, Dr. Forbes, likes to use Freudian psychoanalysis. He asks if Rent Boy’s addiction has anything to do with the death of his brother (Davie Renton, not Billy), since Rent Boy started taking heroin shortly afterward.
This section reveals an important part of Rent Boy’s backstory that helps explain some of the previous sections. Instead of using flashbacks, Welsh shows Rent Boy with a psychiatrist, which provides an excuse for Rent Boy to reconsider his past.
Dr. Forbes asks Rent Boy more questions about why he dropped out of university. Rent Boy says he had a hard time connecting with other students. Dr. Forbes returns to the subject of Rent Boy’s dead brother, Davie Renton, who was totally paralyzed and could only blink and swallow. Rent Boy admits he resented Davie Renton because it caused the other kids to make fun of him and Billy.
The paralysis of Davie Renton mirrors Rent Boy’s own paralysis when he’s on heroin. As is often the case, Rent Boy hates things that make him confront his issues and shortcomings directly, and his brother Davie is an example of this.
Rent Boy isn’t sure how all of this relates to heroin addiction, and he thinks that in his own way, Dr. Forbes might be just as “scoobied” as Rent Boy is. Rent Boy has spoken with several other counselors, none of whom really understand addiction, his opinion, but some get closer than others. He thinks society has to come up with theories to explain anyone who falls outside the mainstream and that none of these theories ever make much sense. People want Rent Boy to choose life, but what they really mean is a “normal” life of paying a mortgage, watching gameshows, and having kids. Rent Boy refuses.
A mortgage (paying to own property) is the opposite of renting, so Rent Boy’s nickname is appropriate, since he wants to stay renting and never have a mortgage. Although the book often portrays Rent Boy’s choices and particularly his addiction in a morally ambiguous light, in this section Rent Boy defends his lifestyle and his actions, claiming that what he does is better than the alternative (i.e., upholding mainstream ideal). Rent Boy is an unreliable narrator, and so his statements shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value, but at the same time, the book does explore how Rent Boy might have a point about the emptiness of mainstream society.
House Arrest. Rent Boy wakes up disoriented in his childhood bedroom. As he recovers, he remembers taking too strong a dose of heroin at Johnny Swan’s place, then Johnny Swan and Alison taking him to the hospital. It’s Rent Boy’s first time overdosing.
Rent Boy’s first overdose suggests that he has been lucky so far with his addiction but that his luck won’t hold out forever.
Rent Boy’s Ma comes in and tells him that everyone wants to help him fight his disease. The doctor told her withdrawal symptoms are like the flu, but Rent Boy knows they’re way worse. His mother tells him she turned down any drugs like methadone to ease withdrawal symptoms, suggesting that Rent Boy should go cold turkey. Rent Boy realizes his mother feels guilty and sees similarities between Rent Boy’s situation and the death of Davie Renton.
Both Rent Boy and his brother Davie have been “paralyzed” in some way—Davie was literally paralyzed, but Rent Boy is metaphorically paralyzed (although sometimes the effects of heroin also resemble literal paralysis). Rent Boy’s mother’s total rejection of maintenance drugs like methadone suggests that she doesn’t understand the symptoms of heroin withdrawal.
Rent Boy’s father comes into the room and starts lecturing Rent Boy about all the opportunities he had but messed up. After his father is done talking, Rent Boy manages to convince his Ma to give him some Valium, which she got a prescription for after Davie Renton’s death. She feels like she’s an expert in addiction after kicking her own Valium habit, so she and Rent Boy’s father essentially place him on house arrest. Rent Boy’s mother and father try to make him eat steak mince, even though he’s vegetarian. They plan to get a lock for his room to keep him inside.
This passage further explores how despite Rent Boy’s parents good intentions, they don’t really understand their son. They know that something has gone wrong with Rent Boy and want to help, but they lack the knowledge to do so and at times do more harm than good. Valium, while potentially addictive, is very different from heroin, and so Rent Boy’s mother’s suggestion that her own Valium habit gives her insight into her son’s heroin addiction isn’t quite accurate.
Rent Boy’s body aches, and he starts losing track of time. He starts hallucinating and having intrusive thoughts about eating his own tongue. He sees Dawn crying on the ceiling. When Rent Boy finally becomes lucid again, he doesn’t know how much time has passed, but Sick Boy is there with his parents. Sick Boy charms Rent Boy’s parents, and they soon believe Sick Boy has nothing to do with drugs.
This passage tries to convey the extreme effects of quitting heroin cold turkey. When Rent Boy tried to quit heroin at the beginning of the novel, he suffered so much that he had to go get the opium suppositories. Sick Boy’s manipulation of Rent Boy’s parents once again demonstrates his depraved personality.
When Rent Boy’s parents leave, Rent Boy asks Sick Boy for heroin, but Sick Boy is trying to stay away from the drug-selling crowd so that he doesn’t go back to using. Sick Boy says he’s been through everything Rent Boy’s going through. The most intense pain will be over soon, but what’s even worse is the depression that follows. Sick Boy started drinking a bottle of tequila a day, but eventually he managed to kick that habit too.
Rent Boy perhaps expects Sick Boy to be there to give him drugs, but in fact, Sick Boy has been able to stay away from heroin. Sick Boy may be a morally dubious character, but he focuses strongly on self-preservation, and this is perhaps why he is more successful than many of the other characters at kicking his heroin addiction.
Sick Boy mentions that he heard recently from a woman they both know that Rent Boy had a difficult time getting it up in bed. He says Rent Boy is really missing out by not having sex. Rent Boy’s friends have also been asking about him, particularly with some concerts coming up. Although Rent Boy finds Sick Boy patronizing, he misses him after he leaves the room.
Sick Boy and Rent Boy have a rivalry in their friend group, and so Sick Boy appreciates having an opportunity to gloat during one of Rent Boy’s low moments. Nevertheless, a part of Rent Boy seems to enjoy their rivalry, and he understands Sick Boy better than someone like Begbie.
As Sick Boy predicted, Rent Boy’s pain starts to go away, but he has to endure the worst depression he’s ever experienced. He finds it difficult to answer simple questions, like when his mother asks him if he wants coffee. More days pass, and Rent Boy starts slowly feeling a little better. He heard recently that Lesley is on life support after an overdose. He runs into Johnny Swan at the club, and they talk about Lesley. Johnny thinks Lesley should be happy to not have any responsibilities anymore, now that Dawn is dead. Rent Boy disagrees.
Rent Boy commonly shows symptoms of depression, and it isn’t always clear which feelings are related to heroin use and which feelings he’d have anyway. Although Rent Boy liked Johnny Swan at the beginning of the book, he slowly begins to see how Johnny Swan isn’t that great a person, particularly after Johnny talks so callously about the Lesley’s hospitalization.
At the club, Rent Boy can’t stand to drink his beer. Songs play on the jukebox, and Rent Boy’s parents get up to dance. Rent Boy notices that even while they’re gone, they’ve tasked other people in the club with watching Rent Boy.
Rent Boy’s feeling that his parents are always watching him may be paranoia. Even after he begins to kick his heroin habit, Rent Boy has a difficult time reconnecting with the world around him.
Rent Boy’s father slips him some money and tells him to go buy the next round. On his way to the bar, Rent Boy runs into an old school friend. She used to have sex with Sick Boy and asks how he’s doing. Rent Boy says Sick Boy is off somewhere dealing drugs, acting as a pimp, and extorting money. Rent Boy still considers Sick Boy a good friend and isn’t sure why he helped spread these stories about him. Rent Boy goes back to his parent’s table with the drinks and tries to act happy, but he feels that life is short and meaningless.
Rent Boy tells his school friend about the morally questionable things Sick Boy is doing (all of which are true) as a way of getting revenge for the earlier scene where Sick Boy talked down to Rent Boy while Rent Boy was recovering at his parents’ house. Rent Boy doesn’t understand why he feels the need to keep up a rivalry with Sick Boy, and this perhaps relates to his overarching sense that life is meaningless.
Bang to Rites. Rent Boy is at his first burial. Billy died in the army, which some consider heroic, but which Rent Boy considers “daft.” He feels contempt as he looks at the Union Jack flag on Billy’s coffin. Billy died while on patrol near a British army base in Ireland, three weeks before his tour of duty would be over. Rent Boy feels that Billy was an idiot who understood nothing about imperialism or Britain’s history with Ireland and who just sort of stumbled into his death.
This book takes place during the Troubles, a period in history when the largely Protestant royalists (who supported Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK) fought against the largely Catholic republicans (who supported a united, independent island of Ireland). For Rent Boy, who believes that Scotland too should become independent, Britain is an oppressive imperial power, and so by joining the British Army, Billy betrayed his homeland of Scotland.
Rent Boy figures Billy’s death is good for him because it makes other people more sympathetic. Spud and Tommy are there; Spud looks clean, but Tommy looks pale and wasted, a total role reversal of how they used to be. Begbie is on holiday, and Sick Boy has gone to France to live with a new woman. Throughout the day, Rent Boy thinks of times that Billy physically or mentally bullied him.
Rent Boy continues to see the selfish side of things (how Billy’s death might be good for him) and yet his feelings are arguably more sympathetic here than usual, since unlike with Spud, Rent Boy actually has a reason not to care about Billy (because Billy used to bully Rent Boy).
Rent Boy starts flirting with his goth cousin, Nina, who smiles but gets embarrassed, until Rent Boy’s father scolds Rent Boy for being disrespectful. Rent Boy decides to get a ride back to the house with Tommy, Spud, and Davie Mitchell, who drop Rent Boy off and don’t come inside. Inside, Rent Boy’s mother is talking with Billy’s woman, Sharon, who’s pregnant.
Nina was the main character of a previous chapter that took place during a funeral (Uncle Andy’s). The many funerals in the book show how accustomed the characters have become to death and hardship in general.
As people keep reminiscing about Billy, Rent Boy stays silent because all his own memories are bad. At last, he feels he’s attracting unwanted attention, so he compromises by giving a short speech and saying that while he and Billy disagreed on some things, they agreed on the value of a good drink, so everyone should try to enjoy themselves for Billy’s sake.
While Rent Boy typically has no problem lying, he struggles to lie in this scene and so limits himself to telling a version of the truth. This shows how, while Rent Boy might not have liked his brother very much, he nevertheless remains deeply affected by his death.
Rent Boy gets drunk and goes back to hitting on Nina, wondering if what he’s doing is legal. She looks like she’s heard all his lines before and thinks Rent Boy is a jerk. She says it’s a shame about Billy. One of Rent Boy’s uncles sees Rent Boy and intervenes. He was already angry at Rent Boy about his inappropriately lighthearted speech. Rent Boy taunts his uncle, ready to smash a glass on his head if his uncle goes for a punch. His uncle is “orange,” meaning a conservative loyal to Britain (and opposed to Scottish independence).
While Rent Boy himself feels that Billy was a traitor to Scotland, many of his family members feel exactly the opposite and that Billy was a patriot. This reflects Scotland’s complicated relationship to England the rest of the UK, pitting family members against each other, and it illustrates why Scottish independence remains a contentious issue.
One of Rent Boy’s more sensible uncles tells Rent Boy not to get in a fight, for his mother’s sake. Rent Boy steps aside to go to the bathroom and happens to run into Sharon, who’s very drunk. Rent Boy tells her he needs to have a conversation with her in the toilet. The two start kissing, and soon Sharon starts giving Rent Boy oral sex. He tries to finish in her from behind but can’t fit, so instead they have vaginal sex. Rent Boy imagines getting fellated by Billy’s fetus inside Sharon.
Rent Boy’s unusual behavior once again shows that his brother’s death, perhaps combined with his heroin withdrawal-induced depression have caused him to act erratically. Rent Boy seems to think at first that he can finally assert his superiority over Billy by having sex with Billy’s girlfriend after Billy’s death.
Someone knocks on the bathroom door, temporarily interrupting Rent Boy and Sharon, but Rent Boy says Sharon has just had too much to drink and he’s helping her while she’s sick. When the person goes away, Rent Boy pulls out and puts his head on Sharon’s chest, feeling like a baby himself. Sharon asks if she and Rent Boy will keep seeing each other. Rent Boy suddenly finds it repulsive that Sharon thinks she can replace Billy with him.
Rent Boy soon realizes that his efforts to try to outdo his brother are futile—after all, Billy is dead, and so it’s impossible for him to compete with Rent Boy. Rent Boy’s disgust toward Sharon is in part a manifestation of Rent Boy’s own disgust at himself and the morally questionable things he’s willing to do.
One of Rent Boy’s cousins, who’s a police officer, threatens to break the bathroom door down. Rent Boy finally opens the door. He doesn’t like the mood at the house, so he takes Sharon back to his apartment. Sharon talks about how Billy beat her multiple times and generally mistreated her. But he was her partner, and she thought she could change him. Rent Boy thinks about how Billy always wanted Rent Boy to stop doing drugs and how it really is hard to change people. Rent Boy now wants Sharon to leave so he can cook up a shot of heroin.
Sharon’s behavior with Billy recalls that of the random woman in a bar that Tommy and Second Prize witnessed being beaten. Billy’s inability to change his own violent behavior has clear parallels with Rent Boy’s own inability to quit his addiction. Rent Boy faces his own dark side at his brother’s funeral, and this drives him yet again to seek out heroin as a coping mechanism.
Junk Dilemmas No. 67. Rent Boy muses on how his addiction really isn’t so bad compared to all the children in the world starving to death. The only real problem with heroin is eventually you run out.
The location of this “Junk Dilemmas” confirms yet again that Rent Boy has relapsed and is back to using heroin.