Trainspotting

by

Irvine Welsh

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Trainspotting: Home Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Easy Money for the Professionals. Begbie makes Spud promise to keep a secret, not even telling Rent Boy. Spud and Begbie take a taxi to June’s place, where she lives with Begbie’s kid. June asks Begbie what’s going on, but he ignores her and the kid, leading Spud to the bedroom, where he has a big canvas bag full of money. Begbie got the money in a scheme that involved copying keys.
Begbie continues to have no interest in acting as a father, showing how his character remains consistent over the course of the book. The novel never reveals the specifics of Begbie and Spud’s most recent criminal deal. Spud’s willingness to join a new scheme so soon after his release from prison suggests either naivety or desperation.
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There’s a knock at the door. Begbie and Spud fear it’s the police, but it’s just a short young guy who helped with the scheme and wants his share of the money. Begbie tries to intimidate the short guy to make sure he won’t blab about the scheme. He throws a dart at his face, removing the dangerous metal part first, but the guy recoils, thinking it’s real. He takes his cut of the money and nervously leaves. Spud thinks Begbie was too hard on the guy, but Begbie feels it was necessary to make sure he’s discreet with the money.
This scene provides yet another example of how Begbie only knows how to communicate through force and domination. Nevertheless, despite Begbie’s toughness, this scene also hints at his vulnerability and how, because Begbie needs to rely on other people (like the young man), he will always be paranoid that someone is out to get him.
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A Present. Rent Boy stays with his friend Gav for Matty’s funeral. Rent Boy doesn’t know the full story of what happened to Matty, but Gav tells him Matty had HIV but didn’t realize it until late. Gav explains that Nicola’s cat had kittens and Matty got one for the young daughter of a woman he knows. But the woman didn’t want her daughter to have the kitten, so Matty brought it back to his place. He didn’t take very good care of the cat and got toxoplasmosis from its feces.
Matty’s death results from a combination of poor decision making and very bad luck. While his character was a relatively minor figure in Rent Boy’s group, his death nevertheless shocks the other characters and sets a darker tone for the remainder of the book.
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Gav continues the story, telling Rent Boy how Matty got a brain hemorrhage then had a stroke at age 25. After the stroke, he looked like a different person. Three weeks later, he had a second stroke and died. The police only found him later when neighbors complained about the kitten’s noise.
The details of Matty’s death are particularly shocking. Strokes generally occur in old age, and so Matty’s condition shows how HIV (and by extension, heroin) can make people prematurely old before killing them.
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Quotes
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Memories of Matty. Begbie, Rent Boy, Spud, Alison, and others have all gathered for Matty’s funeral. At a small chapel connected to the crematorium, a busy minister gives a short speech. Rent Boy and Spud almost laugh when the minister mentions Matty’s guitar skills (which in reality were mostly nonexistent).
This section ties together several threads of the story by weaving together the perspectives of many different characters. This illustrates how Matty’s death ripples throughout the whole community.
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Several people at the funeral recall their memories of Matty. Spud remembers how when Matty was stoned, he used to watch Australian soap operas. Alison remembers having sex with Matty a long time ago, back before either of them started using heroin. Begbie feels impotent, willing to fight over any insult to a friend but unsure what to do in the face of death. Matty’s mother remembers him as a child. Matty’s younger brother wants revenge on Matty’s drug-using friends for bringing Matty down. Matty’s ex-girlfriend holds their daughter’s hand tightly, thinking about how Matty used to be a romantic.
Each of the characters remembers a different detail about Matty, often one that doesn’t on the surface seem like it should be the most important thing they remember about him. This passage shows how a person’s real impact on others might take on surprising forms, with seemingly small details mattering much more in retrospect.
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Sometime later, the bartender at a pub tries to get everyone to stop singing so loudly. No one listens, although Begbie glares ominously at the bartender. Rent Boy tries to distract Begbie to diffuse the situation, reminiscing about a trip they went on together with Matty. This pacifies Begbie at first, but then he suddenly says that Sick Boy should have been at the funeral.
Similar to the section “Scotland Takes Drugs In Psychic Defense,” this passage shows how characters often use drinking, drugs, and revelry as defense mechanisms that help them to cope with the harsh reality of the world they live in—a world, for instance, where people like Matty die young.
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At the pub, Spud tries to defend Sick Boy for missing Matty’s funeral, saying Sick Boy is in France, and so it would’ve been a long trip for him. But Begbie digs in and insists Sick Boy should have come, so at last Spud gives up and agrees. Begbie gets up and puts his arm around Rent Boy, saying that when he’s in London, he’d better take better care of himself than Matty did. Rent Boy promises he will.
Spud understands that perhaps Sick Boy is better off getting away from Leith, where the environment seems to inevitably pull everyone back toward heroin and violence. On the other hand, the somber mood of Matty’s funeral seems to bring out a rare show of affection from Begbie.
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Still the pub, Rent Boy goes over to join a conversation between Spud and Alison. Spud says he’s attended way too many funerals for someone his age. He wonders who’s next. Rent Boy says at least they’re all getting a lot of practice with grief for the future. Eventually, everyone leaves the bar to go into the dark, cold night.
The conversation here reaffirms that funerals are a common occurrence for the characters. Although they are not necessarily numb to death, their humor and casual attitude suggest that they’re more familiar with it than most, mostly due to their struggles with addiction.
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Straight Dilemmas, No. 1. A woman at a pub offers Rent Boy a mix of marijuana and opium to smoke. He says he’s always been too nervous around drugs to do them. He thinks about Kelly and misses her. The thought of heroin bores him now, even though he admits that he’s probably a less interesting person than he was when he was using heroin.
“Straight Dilemmas” is a play on “Junk Dilemmas,” the recurring segment in earlier parts of the book. The introduction of this segment here suggests that Rent Boy might finally be serious about kicking his heroin addiction.
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Eating Out. Kelly can tell it’s going to be a slow night with poor tips at the bar where she works. She misses Rent Boy, who is still away in London. Four drunk upper-middle-class English patrons walk into the bar. They make crude jokes about women, and Kelly tries not to hear. They persist, alternately verbally harassing and attempting to flirt with Kelly. Kelly tries to get her boss to kick them out, but her boss says they’re paying customers.
This section recalls the earlier sections where Kelly gets catcalled out on the street and where Sick Boy plays a prank at her expense. As Kelly continues to endure harassment from men, her patience for dealing with this harassment diminishes.
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Kelly decides to take matters into her own hands. She’s in the middle of a heavy menstrual period. Some of the English customers have ordered tomato soup, so she squeezes some blood from a tampon into the soup. When the customers ask for more wine, Kelly adds some of her urine, which seems to be cloudy from a urinary tract infection into the carafe. She adds more urine to their fish marinade. They eat everything and don’t notice. She empties her bowels onto a newspaper and adds it to the ice cream, also adding a little bit of rat poison. Afterward, she finds it easier to put up with the customers’ insults.
Once again, the book uses gross and shocking imagery for humor. Kelly’s revenge perhaps goes so far that it strains believability (much like Davie Mitchell’s elaborate revenge plan), but a slight touch of the surreal makes sense in a novel where drug use alters many characters’ perceptions of reality. The men’s continued indifference to the terrible meals helps highlight just how little they pay attention to what women do, even when it directly affects them.
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Trainspotting at Leith Central Station. Rent Boy is back in Leith after being in London when he hears two men yelling near an archway. He isn’t sure if they’re yelling at each other or him, so he keeps walking quickly. Eventually, he comes across Second Prize vomiting on the street. Second Prize is talking incoherently and even takes a punch at Rent Boy at one point before calming down again. Rent Boy finds a taxi, pays the driver in advance, and tells him to take Second Prize to Sick Boy’s home.
The title of this section, which mentions “trainspotting,” suggests that something about this section is important enough to give the whole book its title. At first, the story seems to describe just another drunken evening for Rent Boy and his friends. Second Prize’s failed punch at Rent Boy may seem like Begbie-style random violence, but in fact, Second Prize has a specific reason for being angry at Rent Boy, though the novel has yet to reveal that reason.
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Rent Boy keeps walking until he reaches a pub and finds Begbie already inside. Begbie greets him enthusiastically and introduces him to some other guys in the pub. Suddenly, Begbie gets more serious and asks if Rent Boy has heard that Tommy’s sick. Rent Boy says he’s heard and is already planning to visit Tommy.
One of the reasons why Rent Boy sticks with Begbie is that despite Begbie’s bad qualities, he remains loyal (in his way) to Rent Boy and will always welcome him back from London.
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Begbie tells everyone that Rent Boy is a great guy and no one should blame him for selling heroin to Tommy, implying that earlier Second Prize was blaming Rent Boy. In exchange for the compliment, Rent Boy tells some flattering stories about Begbie. They leave the pub and go walking; Rent Boy feels like a tough predator when he walks with Begbie.
This passage illustrates how Begbie and Rent Boy rely on each other to justify their actions. While Rent Boy usually defends Begbie, this scene shows Begbie defending Rent Boy, raising the question of whether this is a new development or whether Rent Boy always depended on Begbie for support but just didn’t realize it until now.
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Begbie and Rent Boy make it to an old train station. Begbie laments that a person used to be able to get a train to anywhere at the station, but now it’s empty, about to be demolished and turned into a supermarket. Begbie wishes he could book a train out of Leith, which is unusual, because Begbie is usually proud of where he’s from.
The empty train station signifies an inability to move forward and a lack of connection with the rest of the world. It embodies the isolation of Leith, which causes even Begbie to voice a few negative opinions about his hometown.
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An old drunk man comes up to Rent Boy and Begbie and asks if they’re trainspotting (watching trains), then he laughs at his own joke. Begbie says yes then curses the old man under his breath. The old man tells them to “keep up the trainspottin mind” and then leaves. Rent Boy only realizes later that the old drunk man was Begbie’s father. On the way back to Begbie’s place, Begbie randomly beats up a stranger on the street. Rent Boy doesn’t intervene.
Trainspotting is a real hobby, but the idea that Rent Boy and Begbie could be doing it in an empty station is ridiculous, hence the old man’s laughter. Begbie’s anger at the random stranger seems to be directly related to his encounter with his father, although neither he nor Rent Boy says anything about this. The scene between Begbie and his father shows how in Leith, violence gets passed down from generation to generation.
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A Leg-Over Situation. Rent Boy goes to visit Johnny for the first time since his leg amputation. When Rent Boy last saw Johnny, he had a lot of abscesses and was talking about a wild plan to move to Bangkok. He’s surprised to see that Johnny seems pretty happy. While he prefers to get his drugs on the “free market,” he is happy that the National Health Service has provided him with some prescription drugs that mix well with his methadone.
What surprises Rent Boy about visiting Johnny is not how much Johnny has changed but how much Johnny seems the same even after losing his leg. Rent Boy realizes that people like Johnny won’t change their reckless behavior for anything, and this causes him to face some uncomfortable truths about himself.
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Johnny lost his leg because he ran out of veins and had to start shooting heroin into his arteries, which gave him gangrene after just a few shots. Rent Boy can’t help looking at the site of Johnny’s amputation. Johnny says he knows exactly what Rent Boy’s thinking and pulls out his penis to show Rent Boy they didn’t amputate it. (This wasn’t what Rent Boy was thinking.)
The more time that Rent Boy spends with Johnny, the more he begins to see through Johnny’s happy exterior. While Johnny tries to prove that he’s still a man by taking out his penis, Rent Boy can see the desperation behind Johnny’s attempts to prove himself.
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Johnny says when he saw his amputated stump, he thought it might at least be a new injection point, but someone in the hospital told him that might kill him. Now he plans to continue with maintenance therapy to get clean, then he’ll become a more professional sort of dealer who doesn’t use. He still talks about going to Bangkok, which surprises Rent Boy.
Johnny’s plan to be a more businesslike dealer contrasts with many of his previous actions, including his admission that he considered using the stump where his leg used to be as a heroin injection site. While Rent Boy sees himself as better than Johnny, Rent Boy has already used his own penis as an injection point and so doesn’t have much room to talk.
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Johnny talks about how he’s eager to have sex but will probably have to pay for it. Johnny asks Rent Boy if he’s still having sex with Kelly. Slightly annoyed by the question, Rent Boy says he isn’t. Johnny says Kelly and Alison came by the other day to observe the “freak show” he’s become. Johnny says he never used his status as a dealer to coerce people into sex, but Rent Boy replies jokingly that that’s just because he had so much heroin in him that he couldn’t get an erection.
Although Johnny and Rent Boy continue to maintain a friendly and joking attitude with each other, Rent Boy has a harder time acting like he agrees with Johnny as Johnny describes increasingly bizarre behavior. While Rent Boy is hesitant to question his friends’ views on women in public, he is more willing to tease Johnny in a private setting.
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Somehow, Johnny is still HIV negative. He dreams of being in Bangkok and surrounded by Asian women. Rent Boy wants to leave soon but waits for an opening. Johnny doesn’t seem to acknowledge Rent Boy’s impatience and starts talking again about how he tried to make Alison give him oral sex. Finally, Rent Boy gets up to leave.
Rent Boy’s departure from Johnny represents a rejection of what Johnny represents. Rent Boy has come a long way since the beginning of the novel, when Johnny was “Mother Superior” and had almost religious significance to Rent Boy. This suggests that while addiction is a cycle, people like Rent Boy can still break away from that cycle and move forward.
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Winter in West Granton. Tommy looks healthy, even though his HIV diagnosis means he’ll likely die sometime in the next few weeks to 15 years. As Rent Boy sits longer in the old chair at Tommy’s apartment, he realizes that maybe some part of Tommy is missing, as if some of him has already died. Tommy asks how London is, and Rent Boy says it’s fine, about the same as Leith. Tommy doubts this.
Tommy and Rent Boy’s conversation is tense because Rent Boy is the one who got Tommy addicted to heroin, starting the chain of events that led to Tommy getting HIV. Tommy’s belief that London must be better than Leith reflects how he thinks Rent Boy’s life is better than his own at the moment.
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Tommy gets angry at Rent Boy, saying Rent Boy has shared needles with many people but never gotten HIV. But Rent Boy maintains that he never shared. Tommy recalls how after he and Lizzy broke up, he went to Rent Boy and asked to try heroin for the first time, even though he used to look down on heroin users. Rent Boy wonders how guilty he is for Tommy’s condition. He feels that some people like Tommy naturally get strong heroin addictions, but this doesn’t necessarily make Rent Boy feel any better.
Although Tommy projects his anger onto Rent Boy, in a way he is expressing a larger frustration with an unfair world. Ultimately, Tommy’s own personality and recklessness played a role in his fate, leaving Rent Boy unsure about how to feel about his own role in Tommy’s addiction and resultant illness.
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Rent Boy realizes that Tommy’s apartment is so run down that it probably doesn’t get much heat—Tommy might not even survive the winter in his weakened condition. Tommy asks Rent Boy if he has any heroin, and Rent Boy says he’s sober. Tommy says then the least Rent Boy can do is lend him some rent money, so Rent Boy pulls out a couple bills. Rent Boy and Tommy lock eyes and have a brief moment of understanding, but it passes quickly.
Tommy is so desperate that he appeals to Rent Boy’s sympathy and guilt for all he can get. The understanding that passes between Tommy and Rent Boy is deliberately ambiguous and could be positive or negative. On the one hand, it could signify that Tommy has accepted his fate and knows that Rent Boy isn’t the only one responsible. A darker interpretation, however, would be that Rent Boy knows the “rent money” he gave Tommy will go to heroin and that he’s decided to let him have it anyway, with the knowledge that each new injection might be Tommy’s last.
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A Scottish Soldier. Johnny shaves his head, trying to look cleaner. The knee in his remaining leg is weak after a soccer accident a while back, and Johnny wishes he’d shot up in that leg so that it was the amputated one instead. He goes out into a public square and writes on a cardboard sign that he’s a Falklands War veteran who needs help.
Johnny’s masquerade as a war veteran calls back to Billy actually joining the army. As Johnny shows, manipulating people’s opinions is as simple as holding up a sign, and with a little bit of cardboard, he transforms from a standard “junkie” to a brave war veteran.
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Johnny makes more money on donations than he does at most other jobs. While some people ignore or look down on him, many give money or even come up to thank him for his service. As he looks at all the money, he gets excited about how he is going to trade prescription medicine with a friend who has cancer in order to put together his new favorite drug cocktail.
Despite the bleakness of Johnny’s life, his story ends on a humorous note. While the novel accurately depicts the dark side of heroin use, it also acknowledges the characters’ resilience and ingenuity as they try to maintain their dangerous addiction.
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