Thursday, July 19, 2012

Porno - (It's not as fun as it seems) - Irvine Welsh

The 'Trainspotting' gang is back and as usual they are up to no good in 'Porno', Irvine Welsh's sequel to his acclaimed novel 'Trainspotting'. It's been 10 year since the events of the previous novel and Simon 'Sick Boy' is at a critical stage in his life. There comes a time in ones life where he is at or arriving at the boundary separating youth from middle age, a stage where one gets the sneaking feeling that all the promises of youth are not going to be fulfilled, the eternity that seemed to stretch beyond at us is shrinking (as Dave Eggers says 'forever is just a word') and one becomes aware of one's mortality and the fact that time is running out to do something and get that big break in life. Simon is at the same state, scrapping around in London. Sick of it and wanting the breakthrough that he so desires he comes back to Leith, the scene of his previous shenanigans and the place he had fled earlier. What's his plan or rather scam for getting that break, it's to make a porno move and getting it screened at Cannes. Simon gathers a motley crew of characters to make the movie which includes old friends turned foes like 'Renton', new characters like Nikki a young woman who has issues of her own. Simon also has plans of his own to get his back at Renton for screwing him earlier, but also has to avoid Francis who gets released from prison and is thirsty for revenge against both Renton and Simon. Danny on the other hand is on a self destructive streak. 

Readers of Irvine Welsh would be aware that his characters are not beacons of morality, they have their own skewed ideas on what is right or wrong, but it's not easy to decipher them. Simon for instance has no compunctions about screwing his own crew members, but still goes into a rage thinking about Renton conning him earlier, terming it as being unfaithful. Still he readily accepts an offer from Renton for helping in making the movie, all the while planning to take his revenge on Renton (but is Renton fooled by Simon seemingly forgiving the past?). Similarly, though he screwed them earlier Renton is paying back the money owed by him. These characters do not fit into the conventional view of morality but they are by no means totally repulsive ones. Even new characters like 'Nikki' aren't easy to understand. A young girl doing a course on Film studies who also does a part time job in a massage parlor (with occasional sexual favors) , she agrees to act in the porno movie. Why? Is it a reactionary decision by her to completely cut of her middle class roots or is it a desire to be in the limelight? Hints of her past with a friend of hers indicate the latter but the body image problem she has begs the question as to why/how someone so insecure about her body decides to act in a porno movie. These characters are the driving force of the novel more than the plot or the events in it.

As usual Welsh keeps things on a lighter note even while describing disturbing events. There are an utterly hilarious 7-8 pages where he describes how the 'plot' and 'story' is developed, the initial shooting of the movie, the various 'positions' the actors have to take, the camera angles etc. Hilarious for us yes, but not for the actors because with all the resources at hand they cannot, well consummate the act right? Must be tough for them. We can in a way relate the situation of the actors in the movie to the situation characters in the novel. Like the actors who cannot take their activity to its fulfillment irrespective of everything needed available to them, due to the rules of film-making, the characters in the novel too never achieve their ultimate aim. Yes, they have a bit of fun throughout but the destination is never reached, this due to the unwritten rules of life. The result is that the characters remain vaguely unsatisfied in life as they are as actor in the movie.  People who think that porno must be an excellent way of mixing business with pleasure would be disappointed when they read how a porno movie is shot. 

A nagging thought I kept having was how Welsh doesn't tell about the motivations of the other actors in the movies especially women? The novel doesn't talk about exploitation of them. We are aware that Nikki has agreed to act due to her (as yet unknown) unresolved issues, but the other women do not seem to have any reason for acting or not acting. They just seem to go in for the ride. There is also wicked humor throughout, like Simon sending gay magazines to 'Francis' when he is at prison and baiting him with abuse, knowing that Francis is going to be even madder when he comes out. (He signs the sender as 'Renton' for good measure!!!). The novel is strewn with such several bizarrely comic situations where the characters seem to lurching from one problem to another just barely avoiding disaster, in some cases creating the problem themselves. 

The novel hums along at a brisk pace throughout, 'hum' being the operative word here because it never reaches a crescendo. This is because of the predictability that pervades the entire novel. People who have read/watched of books/movies on scams can pretty much guess the progress of the novel and it's ending (it sticks out like a sore thumb) beforehand and the Welsh also doesn't throw any red herring at us to misguide us. But irrespective of whatever happens in the end, whatever fall the characters take, we know that they will land on their feet and be up and running soon enough. It is this characteristic of them that makes us continue reading the book even though its predictable These are not totally lovable characters by any means, but one for whom we end up caring about somehow. It reminds me of that  cult classic character, immoral to the core doer of all sorts of shenanigans,  but with a unending thirst for life  Pedro Juan, my all time favorite. These guys may not be in the league of Pedro Juan but can hold their own against pretty much everyone else in the areas of squalor, booze and other general depravity . I hope that Welsh writes another novel about the gang, ten years from the events of Porno. I am sure that they would still not made it big in life, but they sure as hell would be trying hard with their next scam hoping that the big breakthrough is just around the corner. 

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