Books read in 2014 – If You Liked School, You’ll Love Work by Irvine Welsh

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Genre: short stories, Scottish fiction

Narrative Style: varies – five stories in collection

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2007

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Rattlesnakes – three friends drive out into the desert to take drugs and end up stranded with unexpected results. If you liked school, you’ll love work – an expat struggles to juggle all of the women in his life. The DOGS of Lincoln Park – a trendy young woman who loves her dog more than her friends is disturbed by the arrival of a Korean chef in her apartment block. Miss Arizona – a struggling screenwriter meets his match in lonely Miss Arizona. Kingdom of Fife – Jason King and Jenni Cahill struggle with the boredom of living in a small Scottish town.

Book Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge – Anthology genre

This collection was a mixed bag. I’m not a massive fan of short stories but Welsh’s previous collections (The Acid House and Ecstasy) were both excellent so I thought I’d give it a go for the anthology genre in this year’s Eclectic Reader Challenge. I’m not sure why they didn’t quite grab me this was fairly typical Welsh fare. All the usual ingredients. But then maybe that was the problem.

Rattlesnakes started well. You know you’re in a Welsh story when someone gets bitten on the penis by a rattlesnake and the only way to avoid death is for his best mate to suck the poison out. However, this story was spoiled by the borderline racist depiction of a psychotic Mexican. When he finds the pair in their tent, the story becomes pointlessly seedy and the main aim seems to be to make the reader as uncomfortable as possible. So far, so Welsh, you may say but there was nothing underneath the shock, no subtext or cleverness, just smut.

If you liked school, you’ll love work seemed like a case of masculine wishful thinking. The narrator takes great pains to say that he isn’t particularly attractive or slim, yet woman love him and despite some close calls, he never does get caught out. Nothing about this character or any of the women rang true. A series of stereotypes in a series of false set pieces.

The DOGS of Lincoln Park. This is where the collection started to pick up. Welsh carefully plays with racial stereotypes as he forces the reader to make certain assumptions about his Korean chef’s eating habits. You are then left with uncomfortable feeling that you believed the racist hype and assumed that the dog had become dinner.

Miss Arizona. This was a little bit Tales of the Unexpected but very enjoyable. The narrator is clearly trapped somewhere when he starts to tell his tale of making a documentary about his favourite director and interviewing his ex-wife who is heavily into taxidermy. It isn’t too hard to work out what has happened but is a good read nonetheless.

Kingdom of Fife. This is the only story set in Scotland and as such rings the most true. Welsh really does have an ear for his native tongue and captures Jason’s voice well. However, his depiction of Jenni Cahill was less successful and I wasn’t really convinced by her or her sudden change of heart about Jason either.

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