NEW YORK — “Filth.” “Ecstasy.” “Porno.” “The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs.” Which title doesn’t seem to belong?
Though the latest book from author Irvine Welsh, out from W.W. Norton next month, is notably less pithy in name than his previous works, it lacks none of the drunken binges, sexual exploits and expletive-dense dialogue that have been his trademark since his 1993 breakout novel, “Trainspotting.”
Set predominantly in Edinburgh (Welsh’s birthplace and the site of most of his stories), “Bedroom Secrets” juxtaposes the lives of two seemingly opposite characters: the womanizing alcoholic Danny Skinner and the goody-two-shoes, virginal Brian Kibby. When Kibby begins work in Skinner’s office, the fictional Edinburgh Council health inspection agency, the latter develops an irrational, all-consuming hatred for his new colleague. Through an inexplicable hex, Skinner and Kibby essentially switch bodies — Skinner’s bar fight wounds and hangovers manifest themselves in Kibby — and with his newly cleaned-up physique, Skinner embarks on a search for his long-lost father, whom he becomes increasingly convinced is the celebrity chef Alan De Fretais.
The novel’s title comes from a fictional book of the same name that De Fretais’ character has just written. But Welsh’s work is less an exposé of the food industry than an exploration of warring human emotions.
“I kind of liked the idea of this yin and yang; in a lot of ways they’re very close to each other, but they seem very different on the surface,” explains the author of his protagonists. “I liked the idea that Skinner would at first seem to be this really bad guy, a sort of philanderer, and Kibby would be this nice, quiet, wee guy who lives at home with his mother. But once you got into the characters, you’d actually see there is quite a bit of humanity in Skinner, whereas Kibby is kind of maybe just a bit repressed and a bit messed up, particularly in his sexual politics and his attitude towards women.”
If the clash between Skinner and Kibby calls to mind that famous literary coupling, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it is no coincidence.
“The idea of this duality of the persona is a big thing in Scottish culture because of Scotland’s relationship with the rest of Britain,” says Welsh. “It’s a metaphor for the national psyche, in a way. There’s that kind of duality: We want to be Scots, but we sort of quite like the idea of being British, as well.”
This story first appeared in the July 20, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Welsh is no stranger to dualities of the more personal sort. “Trainspotting” was inspired by his own drug-heavy experience in the early Nineties, but he has had his cleaner moments, too.
“I’ve always been quite boom and bust. I’ve had phases when I would go for six months kind of partying and then I would go very sporty for another six months…just kind of playing football and looking after myself and going to the gym,” explains Welsh. “And then I’d get fed up with that and be back out on the tear again.”
Now 48, living in Dublin and happily married since last summer, the writer has much less time for the party cycle. Welsh recently directed a music video for British band Keane; his play, “Babylon Heights,” about the rumored suicide of a Munchkin on the set of “The Wizard of Oz,” just finished its San Francisco run; he soon will be directing the film version of the novel “The Man Who Walks,” and he is starting work on the pilot for a Channel Four television series.
But the sober — or at least more sober — life suits the older, mature Welsh.
“Just to be social I will do the odd line of cocaine or a pill or all that. But I can’t really go and seek out drugs,” he says of his current lifestyle. “I think you get to the point where you’re kind of bored with it because when you’ve done everything, been in every possible scene you can with all that kind of degradation, after a while you know how the night’s going to pan out. You start to anticipate the hangover before you’re actually enjoying the intoxication.”