“Jim has a nice life, he considers, but sometimes Frank has a hell of a lot more fun.”
Is it possible, for a psychotic, deranged, violence-junky to reform? Since Welsh’s Leith trilogy, Skagboys, Trainspotting and Porno, Francis Begbie has become one of literature’s most violent, intolerant, yet strangely likeable characters. Though he was never part of the heroin scene, Begbie’s unrelenting addiction to violence perhaps makes it impossible to envision the man Welsh depicts in his new novel, The Blade Artist.
It is perhaps best to consider Begbie’s new and reformed character, Jim Francis, an alter-ego of the blood-thirsty scotsman so well depicted by Robert Carlyle in Trainspotting and Porno’s adaptations. In some ways, these alter-egos are two sides of the same ‘blade’. His time in California is set after his release from prison, presumably following Porno. He lives with his new wife Melanie and their two children which has stripped him of his violent outbursts, his Scottish accent and even his name, which he has changed to Jim Francis as a desperate plea to rid himself of his past. Franco seems like a completely different man… (aside from the suspicious murder of two men threatening his family one day at the beach… but that’s just a coincidence, right?) However, a call from Leith, informing him of the recent murder of his son Sean, brings him home, thus testing the boundaries of his new alter-ego.
True to form, Welsh’s narrative is split into multiple points of view; Francis’ and Melanie’s, both of whom recall significant events from the past that aid in understanding the present. I enjoyed the transition between English and Scottish dialect as it successfully depicts Franco’s struggle between the past and present. Being back in Scotland, he is constantly reminded of his violent past and as the mystery of his son’s death thickens, the further this violence drags him back. I found I struggled with a moral dilemma; a part of me willed Franco to stay true to his newly reformed self, however, the other part of me wanted to see him unleash Begbie onto the people that have wronged both him and his son – and of that, I was not disappointed.
Though for Welsh fans, there is undoubtedly a sense of maturity that has developed alongside Begbie’s character, this novel still delves into the violent and sometimes ‘icky’ parts of human nature that made Trainspotting so successful. As seen in previous Leith novels, Welsh’s comments on society are relatable and relevant, particularly regarding technology and contrasts between British and American culture. I’d suggest this is most definitely a worth while read for fans of Trainspotting; though it can be read as a stand alone book, it is perhaps most enjoyable when in context of previous novels.