Glue (Terry Lawson #1) by Irvine Welsh

With a title like Glue, it would seem reasonable to assume that Irvine Welsh's fifth book is a meditation on the pitfalls of solvent abuse. In fact the word refers to the bonds that unite four boys, all of whom have grown up in "the scheme"--i.e., Edinburgh's slum-clearance flats, whose optimistic construction in the 1970s give way to the poverty, unemployment, and crime of the succeeding decades. It is the pervasive despair of these crumbling projects that defines the lives of the protagonists: budding DJ Carl Ewart, boxer Billy Birrell, work-shy, sex-mad Terry Lawson, and Andrew Galloway, a drug addict who has tested HIV-positive.

Recounted in the author's inimitable style, Glue is a grungy, Scots-accented bildungsroman. The novel follows the boys through their early forays into sex, drink, drugs, and football violence. Contemplating his erotic initiation, Carl Ewart poses such crucial questions as "How dae ah chat up a bird?" and "Do I wear a rubber johnny?" Here and there Welsh injects political commentary into the mix: Billy Birrell, for example, reflects that "having money is the only way to get respect. Desperate, but that's the world we live in now." For the most part, though, the author sticks to sex and violence and his famously offhand one-liners: "Guilt and shaggin, they go the gither like fish n chips." Fans of Trainspotting will love the book, even down to the brief appearance of Begbie and Renton. Others may feel that Glue is more of the same, and that, despite its graphic charms, the book finds Welsh stuck in a rut. --Jerry Brotton

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