In the 70s and 80s, Irvine Welsh and his pal Sandy Macnair terrorised many sleepy towns throughout Britain. This is a tale of their encounters with British Rail, the Polis and the bottom of hundreds of whisky bottles.
For the most part, this is an outrageously funny, readable, and very accessible book for anyone who’s a fan of Welsh. Carspotting has a similar Gonzo feeling to it as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with the fast-paced cross-country trips and epic mind-flips that characterise Thompson’s writing. At other times though, the mindless, hand-to-mouth boozing can get a little repetitive.
One thing that is rather disappointing, is that this book could be a coming-of-age tale, for any Scottish lad who has ever been baptised in a fiery mix of Glenmorangie and his own bodily fluids. I am sure that Welsh and Co. would have vetted this baby quite heavily before it hit the shelves, leading one to become even more curious about what kind of really nefarious and outrageous things went on.
There’s a whirlwind of weeks, months and years squandered away mindlessly in bars and dirty nightspots and with an assorted cast of freaks, junkies, tramps and whacked-out teenage girls. A jet-black humour courses through it, along with a soundtrack of banshee screams from people getting stabbed, getting nicked and getting wasted. It’s kind of like Trainspotting, but taken from another perspective, twice removed, from that of Creative Director or the Pharmaceutical Supplier. Sandy Macnair was most likely both.
If it sounds as though I’m making too much of a comparison to Trainspotting, it’s only because Macnair makes occasional self-conscious comparisons himself. There are implicit questions that need to be answered. To what degree has life imitated art here and vice-versa? To what degree have important and potentially damaging things been omitted from the biography? The answers will never be found. A biography of a famous author that’s written by a good friend will always be askew. In any case though, it’s a rollicking good kick in the teeth, and as one would expect, a wild and punk storytelling that propels the reader forward.
Then at the end, after the dizzying uppers and horrifying downers, there is a sense of leading nowhere, or perhaps to a broken bus shelter somewhere out in Sighthill at 4 am, that same kind of estranged loneliness. In regards to fiction and non-fiction, biography and real-life, this nuzzles somewhere in between of all these spheres.