Since reading 'Trainspotting' around the time it came out I have read and, to one degree or another, enjoyed every one of Irvine Welsh's books.
Before writing this review I had a look round at some of the other reviews and notice that this book does seem to polarise opinion, generally though most of the readers who have enjoyed previous Irvine Welsh books have enjoyed this one - though certainly not all. One reviewer likened "Skagboys" to the extras that turn on up on some DVDs, specifically that "Skagboys" is the extras for "Trainspotting" - a more in depth look at the main characters on their path to drug addiction, prison etc. I feel that does this book a slight disservice. I think the book stands up on its own merits. Whilst probably mainly appealing to people who read and enjoyed "Trainspotting" and "Porno".
Irvine Welsh says that "Skagboys" was written as part of Trainspotting, and at the same time, which makes sense. It's like a Scottish literary version of the superb US TV series The Wire. The book directly or indirectly touches on all aspects of the world of heroin during the Thatcher years, with the focus being on the core of working class lads from Leith. During the course of the book some of the characters move from Edinburgh; to London; briefly to Amsterdam and a stint working on a Sealink ferry; to a rehab centre near Fife; and even the Battle of Orgreave during the Miners Strike.
Irvine Welsh weaves in plenty of real life incidents into his narrative. I just mentioned the infamous Battle Of Orgreave, I was visiting Amsterdam in the mid 1980s when West Ham United and Manchester United hooligans caused chaos on the ferry to Holland and in the city. Those events appear in "Skagboys" too. Talk about art imitating life.
As with the other books about these characters the stories are told by different characters and from their different perspectives. This is a real strength and gives the reader insights into each of the main characters, and many of the more minor ones too. I think the "Trainspotting" crew inspire Irvine Welsh's best writing. "Skagboys" is another visceral page turner. It's such a shame that he is no longer flavour of the month, as this book is absolutely superb. If you loved "Trainspotting" and "Porno", then you'll probably revel in this prequel. By turns hilarious, appalling, and frequently both at the same time. It's also quietly profound too - Irvine Welsh gives Renton numerous opportunities to take a route out of addiction, but each time he reasons that heroin addiction is a rational response to the futility of the alternatives on offer in Thatcher's Britain, and given his own personal history. The addict as the ultimate free spirited, non-conformist. That perhaps makes the book sound quite serious. It certainly has moments of profundity but is as much about Irvine Welsh's trademark hilarious, appalling, dark, witty, insightful set pieces, scams, and stories.