Friday, January 14, 2011

A Matter of Voice: Irvine Welsh's The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs

Irvine Welsh reaches the apex of his powers when his books speak like their Scottish protagonists, something best illustrated in his famous novel Trainspotting (1993), in which the fevered dreams of junkies Renton and Sick Boy get injected into the reader's thoughts in a bevy of Scots dialect and angst. Then they find themselves goaded by their sociopathic acquaintance Begbie, who bears an eternal disgust for junkies.

This is territory that Welsh has explored again in Trainspotting's sequel--his 2002 novel Porno--and will likely tread again in the novella Skagboys, slated for publication in 2012, which will investigate the formative years of Trainspotting's primary characters. But in The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (2006), Welsh attempts to investigate other forms of addiction: love, sex, alcohol, family, model railroading, punk, food, and even a slice of otaku-geekiness in Star Trek fandom and the videogame Harvest Moon.

All that, in no particular order. And a surprising dearth of illicit substances and designer drugs--something unique in Welsh's corpus of work.

Central to all this is the antagonism between Welsh's two protagonists: the upstanding family boy Brian Kibby and the reckless, feckless, Danny Skinner, both of whom are in the employ of the Edinburgh Council's health inspectorate. Brian and Danny find themselves tied together in an abusive relationship, one caused by a hex that transforms Brian into a Dorian Gray-esque portrait of Danny. Their bond is an endless chain of ambitions and desires, of unfulfilled dreams: Brian covets Danny's ease with women; Danny, Brian's considerate and yeoman behavior--even while arguing about Brian's phoniness. Both of these young men suffer their hatred for each other in silence, until their mutual aggression festers into preoccupation, into a crippling hatred. All the other addictions in the novel are merely symptomatic of the central focus, that is, Brian and Danny's intense rivalry.

The strongest moments in The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs arise, not surprisingly, from Welsh's use of first-person narrators, although the Scots dialect does not appear as heavily as it does in his other works. Mostly, the first-person segments are more rooted in the psyches and sensations of the characters. The third-person episodes, though, tend to move time along quickly, through exposition that lacks the verve and angst of his characters.

The novel certainly has some redeeming moments, although the Dorian Gray motif gets a bit heavy-handed and other portions of the novel move sluggishly. To readers wishing to venture into Irvine Welsh, I'd suggest holding Bedroom Secrets for a later moment in the relationship; start, instead, with a bout of Trainspotting.


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