Book Reviews: Filth & Enduring Love

I am radically de-cluttering the house this weekend, as planned. I also have office work to do this weekend but that’s okay, I like to be busy, I function a lot better when there is plenty going on. This round of de-cluttering and domestic organisation is quite a big project, it is on a par with when my ex moved out three years ago, at the start of this blog. My living room is full of boxes that I have packed with things to go out the door. When those are gone, there are furniture items to be dispatched off separately. Also I have a couple of items of furniture in a warehouse that are better than the items I’m using in my house, like my cheap, rickety dining table, for example, so this is my chance to sort it all out. Summer has suddenly arrived in London and it is a bit late in the day for radical spring-cleaning but never mind. The results will be good. I can combine it with emptying some expensive warehouse space at work and my business partner will be happy.

Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve managed to get some reading done. Crime was on my mind, I guess, so that’s what I read about. Here a couple of reviews.

Filth, Irvine Welsh (1998), Cape/Norton & Enduring Love, Ian McEwan (1997), Cape.

You don’t need me to introduce these authors. Welsh is of course most famous for the desperate Scottish junkies of Trainspotting, Ian McEwan wrote Atonement, which I haven’t read, and The Cement Garden, On Chesil Beach and Solar, which I have. There is no doubt that they can both write and are among Britain’s most celebrated authors. If we want to contrast these novels, and having read them back-to-back it’s impossible not to, the differences are rooted in the British class system.

Enduring Love, in McEwanish style, see Chesil Beach and Solar, concerns well-behaved, middle-class people who are having a frightfully difficult time. Joe is a successful but whiny science journalist who wishes he could get back into proper science but can’t quite manage it. Clarissa is his self-righteous wife. They love each other, although it is not obvious why. They do middle-class things such as go on picnics (a rather self-righteously masochistic hobby in the British weather), the kind where people bring fruit and expensive cheese and a bottle of wine that they know the pedigree of, and consume them in a field that’s devoid of beach or any point of visual interest. Then there’s an accident involving a hot-air balloon, and Joe acquires a stalker. A religious nutcase called Jed Parry, who becomes erotically obsessed with Joe and follows him around for the rest of the book, while Joe repeatedly complains about him to the police, his wife and anyone who will listen, until he leads them to doubt his own sanity.

McEwan is interested in telling stories in which people’s lives change suddenly as a result of some random event; a balloon accident, for example. These kinds of events and sequences give McEwan a chance to showcase his well-drawn characters, by showing them confronting remarkable situations. In this respect, Enduring Love delivers satisfaction. Joe’s growing obsession with, and amateur diagnosis of, his stalker, is convincing and gives the novel direction, pace and suspense. There are funny moments, too, such as Joe’s frustrated efforts to be taken seriously at his local police station. This will keep you with Joe for the duration of the book. At the same time, as none of the characters are especially likeable, it will leave you feeling that you just spent some time rubbernecking the neighbours. People whose lives are superficially familiar to you but who you don’t really care about. You are just rubbernecking because a truck drove into the front of their house. It’s not what you’d call a morally uplifting experience.

I shouldnae be complaining about ‘morally uplifting’, mind, when I’ve just been dragged through the mud and pish of Edinburgh’s winter streets by Irvine Welsh, author of Filth and therefore of Detective Bruce Robertson. Robertson is a horrifying man, a monster. The Patrick Bateman of the Scottish police force. He is violent, exploitative and scheming, marinating in his own rage, addicted to sex and drugs, full of hate and contempt for his fellow man. And women. Especially women, because what else would anyone feel for them. They are all hoors. This is not a novel about well-behaved, middle class people having a difficult time. This is about an insanely angry man from a poor Scottish mining community who spends his life inserted into the same dank, festering world of casual violence, prostitution, amateur porn and street drugs of varying quality as the depraved and degenerate local criminals whose lives he is employed to follow. Welsh paints these scenes more accurately than anyone else. This is the other side of British life, the side that McEwan’s characters are successfully pretending isn’t there.

Filth is too long. This is the second time I’ve read it and both times I found that I was rushing through the last hundred pages, which makes it easy to miss important plot points. It just gets a bit repetitive near the end. Bruce continues to be the worst person you’ve ever met and it becomes more of an effort to give detailed attention to Welsh’s dense prose as it carries on. It would have benefited from being edited down. I actually went on to watch the film version, starring James McAvoy as Bruce Robertson and also featuring John Sessions and Jim Broadbent, which tells you everything you need to know about the acting. It’s all pitch-perfect and the plot is, in my opinion, better expressed through a visual medium. It is also funnier than the novel which is mostly too hellish and too accurate to be amusing. That said, I have no further word of criticism of Filth. It is a portrait of a man who is a terrifying monster, contrast this against the characters of Enduring Love, who are merely irritating. Robertson is not someone you want to meet, he is someone to avoid. But once he has your attention, the things he says will make your jaw drop. He has … a point of view. A certain way with words. Here are a couple of Robertson bon mots. You will see what I mean.

Bruce on relationships:

What I usually do with a new bird is hole up with them for a weekend and spoil them with loads of foreplay, champagne, takeaways and undivided attention to all the preposterous shite they drivel. That usually does the trick for getting into them on a casual basis for months. The best thing to do is to give a new bird the very best possible time, and then she knows you have the capacity to do that again and she’s always looking inwards blaming herself for not being able to reactivate that passion in you. The best lovers ken that you only need tae be a good lover once with one bird. Get it right the first time and then ye can basically dae what ye like. Eventually they tipple that you’re just a selfish cunt, usually eftir a few years a fruitless self-analysis, but by that time you’ve generally had your fill and are firing into somebody else.

Bruce on morality:

A standing prick hath no conscience. And if that standing prick is attached to Bruce Robertson then it hath less than no conscience. You can’t afford a conscience in this life, that has become a luxury for the rich and a social ball and chain for the rest of us. 

Bruce doesn’t only hate women. He is a racist and hates everyone. Bruce on his regular newspaper:

They should call that paper the ‘Coon, Poof, Silly Wee Lassie, Schemie and Communist News’. I only read it for the fitba and Andrew Wilson. He’s the only one that talks any sense on that fuckin paper, even if he is a Hibby Leith bastard.

Bruce’s career choices:

Why did I join the force? I repeat, – Oh I’d have to say that it was due to police oppression. I’d witnessed it within my own community and decided that it was something I wanted to be part of, I smile.

Right, I’d better get back on with my packing. I’m claiming 2 Books point and 1 Home point.

One thought on “Book Reviews: Filth & Enduring Love”

  1. Have seen Filth too – mostly watched open-mouthed at the mild horror but shocking recognisability of it all – or maybe because it was set in Edinburgh and I DID recognise most of the locations

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