Glue is a novel that tracks male relationships and the maintenance of a group friendship over a thirty-year span of time, beginning in the 1970’s and ending early in the twenty-first century. At ten-year intervals, Carl, Gally, Billy, and Terry report on their lives and reveal their changing perceptions of self, each other, and the world. An atypical and postmodern bildungsroman (novel of development), Welsh’s work multiplies both the focus and the time frame of that traditional form. Though his characters share similar childhood hardships and adolescent misbehaviors, the adult men they become are quite disparate. Two become career men: Billy, an aspiring boxer entangled in organized crime, and Carl, a disc jockey at a nightclub. Two remain intoxicated free spirits: Terry frequents pubs and pursues women; Gally frequents jail cells and pursues drugs.
In the first segment, moral codes are bequeathed to the four from the previous generation of men, their fathers: Never hit a woman, stand by your friends, and never snitch. These simple directives initially offer the boys a guide for life, but they fail them in the end, when one adult character’s self-interest overrides his concern for the good of the group. Unlike Trainspotting, where a character’s break from the pack was a necessary and even brave act, Glue suggests the opposite.
In terms of its style Welsh’s fourth novel is reminiscent of Trainspotting and its cacophony of narrators, but Glue introduces a third-person narrative into the mix of character voices. Though suggestive of inhalant drug usage, the title of the novel actually refers metaphorically to the experiences that cement friendships, the adhesives that bond people for life.