Thursday, 10 January 2013

Filth by Irvine Welsh (5/5)

First published: 1998
Page count: 393

The back says: With the festive season almost upon him, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson is winding down at work and gearing up socially – kicking off Christmas with a week of sex and drugs in Amsterdam. There are irritating flies in the ointment, though, including a missing wife, a nagging cocaine habit, a dramatic deterioration in his genital health, a string of increasingly demanding extra-marital affairs. The last thing he needs is a messy murder to solve. Still it will mean plenty of overtime, a chance to stitch up some colleagues and finally clinch the promotion he craves.

But as this single-minded career cop spirals through the lower reaches of degradation and evil, he encounters opposition – in the form of truth and ethical conscience – from the most unexpected quarter of all: his anus. With such an adversary you can run, but you just can’t hide. Things are beginning to go badly for the Detective Sergeant, but in an Irvine Welsh book nothing is ever so bad that it can’t get worse...

In Bruce Robertson, Welsh has created one of the most corrupt, misanthropic characters in contemporary fiction and has written a dark, disturbing and very funny novel about sleaze, power, and the abuse of everything. At last, a novel that lives up to its name

I say: Bruce Robertson is the most disgustingly depraved character I have ever encountered, and a few pages in I was questioning myself whether or not I’d be able to stomach his offensiveness for nearly 400 pages.

But I did.

Somehow, I did.

It’s just before Christmas, his wife has left with his daughter, a black man is murdered and Bruce is put on the investigation. To be noted is that Bruce is a racist and spends a lot of time harping on about how he doesn’t care about solving the murder – in not so pleasant terms, of course. However, there is a promotion to be had and he uses this murder case to bring down some of his competition in the vilest of ways.

Really, I thought Denzel Washington’s character in Training Day was bad, but he has nothing on Bruce.

Bruce is cheating on his wife with numerous people (while having some nasty kind of rash on and around his genitals); indulges in copious amounts of drugs and alcohol; is not above stealing from the public – or beating them up – but his biggest problem seems to be a parasite in his stomach that keeps interrupting his thoughts. Seriously, sometimes it covers entire pages with interruptions. Like so:


Reading this was a serious challenge for me, and not just because of the Scottish vernacular that I had to sound out loud to get an idea of what was being said; or the abundance of rhyming slang (such as Dame Judi Dench = stench); but because Bruce was so utterly offensive to anyone who wasn’t of pure Scottish nationality, Christian, straight, male and a detective (or maybe a talented football player). Everyone else was constantly referred to in the racist, homophobic, and sexist terms invented.

It was horrible.

Having said that, this novel is a masterpiece because Welsh didn’t sugar-coat anything and just let the reader have it all – unfiltered. Obviously this isn’t a depiction of all of Scotland’s police, but I’m sure there are a lot of policemen like Bruce out there (and every now and then we read about them in the news).

Ah, they have apparently turned this into a film to be released sometime this year. I doubt I’ll have the stomach to see this, but I also wonder how much will be edited out (there’s zoophilia in here).

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