(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Mark Renton is a heroin addict with a reputation for randomly kicking his habit and relapsing just as suddenly. His propensity to do both is a joke among his friends and acquaintances. Mark prepares to go with his friend Sick Boy to see their dealer, Mother Superior, as Sick Boy is in withdrawal. Mark and Sick Boy belong to a group of heroin addicts known as the Skag Boys, and most people except for their closest associates try to avoid them.

During the Edinburgh Festival, Mark attempts to imitate Sick Boy’s method of coming off heroin. He uses one hit of heroin to help him deal with the relative torture of going to the grocery store—a place he typically avoids because it is full of nonaddicts who annoy him. Mark realizes that, at least for the time being, Mother Superior has disappeared, and the only other drug contact he has is Mike Forrester. Mark goes to Mike’s place to get a hit, but Mike senses Mark’s desperation and makes him suffer through a number of jokes and mind games before he will give Mark anything. Finally, Mike produces opium suppositories, which he claims are the perfect thing to help Mark break his addiction to drugs for good, as they are slow release. Mark declares that he wants a hit of heroin, but he pays for the opium anyway.

Soon, both Sick Boy and Mark are off heroin. Sick Boy is only interested in attracting women, and Mark is concerned about Sick Boy’s sexist attitudes, which annoy him. As Sick Boy contemplates which of the young women he has just met will have sex with him, the thought of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) courses through his mind. He reasons that if did not contract AIDS by sharing needles with the rest of the Skag Boys, then he could not get it by having intercourse with a woman. He is reminded of a friend of both himself and Mark, Goagsie, who is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive: It is unclear how Goagsie contracted the virus. Those with HIV and AIDS serve as a warning to others who are at risk, especially heroin addicts. Sick Boy laments that, without heroin or a woman and her money, he has nothing with which to fill himself. Since he has given up heroin as being unsafe, all he has left is women and their money.

The Skag Boys are awakened to the screaming of a woman named Lesley: Dawn, her baby, is dead. Mark notices that the infant resembles Sick Boy; however, he realizes that she could have been the child of any of the Skag Boys.

At night, the Skag Boys and their friends and acquaintances are at a pub. Mark fetches drinks for everyone. When Begbie finishes drinking from a glass pitcher, he throws it over his shoulder and off the balcony. The act creates chaos. The scene is indicative of why Mark has grown tired of Begbie’s company. He has been forced to be his friend since elementary school, but, as Begbie’s violence has increased, so has Mark’s impatience with him.

Tommy, a soccer-playing friend of the Skag Boys, is dumped by his girlfriend Lizzy. He goes to visit Mark while Mark is relapsing and back on heroin. Tommy is curious about heroin and what it does for people. Mark introduces Tommy to heroin.


(The entire section is 1293 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Trainspotting depicts the adventures of five young men in Edinburgh’s violent, drug-infested, and depressed neighborhoods, an image at odds with the city’s global reputation as a cultural center. Welsh’s Edinburgh does not resemble the tourist destination, with its famed arts festivals, because he scrapes away the romantic veneer to reveal the city’s underclass realities: addiction, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and unemployment. When members of the gang journey to other locales, such as London, the scenery does not improve. The novel’s tour guides go by the nicknames Rents, Sick Boy, Spud, Begbie, and Tommy. The majority of the stories are told by Rents, with his mates supplying the remainder in hodgepodge fashion. It is mainly an account of their parties and crimes. Their illegal activities include, among others, heists both major and minor and drug transactions and usage. Clearly the more shocking behaviors recounted in the novel fall under the category of people’s inhumanity and their indifference to the suffering of others: a baby’s crib death that does not stop a party, but merely relocates it; the arrogance of an HIV-positive man who engages in unprotected sex as a form of serial murder; and the premeditated killing of a dog executed as a practical joke.

The novel’s title is a reference to the pastime of marking the arrival and departure times of trains in stations. It is also a metaphor for drug usage, a way...

(The entire section is 448 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Blackwell, Bonnie. “The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Narrative.” College Literature 31, no. 4 (Winter, 2004): 1-26. Examines Mark Renton’s use of language and his philosophy on verbal speech as one that is less pro-drugs and more antispeech as a means to socialization.

Cardullo, Bert. “Fiction into Film, or Bringing Welsh to a Boyle.” Literature Film Quarterly 25, no. 3 (1997): 158-163. Discusses the dynamics of adapting Trainspotting into a motion picture.

Farred, Grant. “Wankerdom: Trainspotting as a Rejection of the Postcolonial?” South Atlantic Quarterly 103, no. 1 (Winter, 2004): 215-226. Addresses the social and mythical construction of Scotland, as seen by late twentieth century Scots, particularly the fictional Mark Renton.

Hemingway, Judy. “Contested Cultural Spaces: Exploring Illicit Drug-Using Through Trainspotting.” International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education 15, no. 4 (2006): 324-335. Presents drug use statistics in Britain. Trainspotting is used to explore Edinburgh’s realms of high and low culture and to discern the role of physical space and culture among drug-using and marginalized populations.

MacLeod, Lewis. “Life Among the Leith Plebs: Of Arseholes, Wankers, and Tourists in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 41, no. 1 (Spring, 2008): 89-106. Argues that Trainspotting is a story of two cities, Leith and Edinburgh, and of those with material wealth and those without. Examines the representation of these contrasts in the novel through dialogue, sense of place, and character philosophy.