Irvine Welsh

"The Bedroom Secrets of Master Chefs"

(Reviewed by Tony Ross JAN 4, 2007)

I've read all of Welsh's novels and story collections, and loved them all to varying degrees (4-5 stars each, no problem). Unfortunately, while trafficking in many of the same themes as his earlier work (albeit in much more accessible language, i.e. the Scots lingo is toned down), this latest Leith-set novel is mediocre at best. Alas, even worse, it's something I never thought one of his books could be -- boring.

I suppose any novel which opens with a prologue at a Clash concert has nowhere to go but down, but for the first 80 pages or so I held out hope.
The two protagonists are Danny Skinner, a typical 20-something wide boy who works as a kitchen inspector for a city agency. He's a rather unlikable cunning bastard (quite literally, his search for his father drives a good part of the story), whose descent into alcoholism costs him his beautiful dancer girlfriend and his self-respect. Meanwhile, awkward, geeky, insecure, model train enthusiast Brian Kibby joins his office and immediately becomes fuel for Skinner's nasty side. Skinner's irrational antagonism for Kibby is so strong that it triggers a curse -- anything bad that happen's to Skinner's body is transferred to Kibby's. It doesn't take long for Skinner to work this out, and he embarks on a malicious campaign of chemical and physical self-abuse which sends Kibby's life into a nightmarish tailspin.

Meanwhile, Skinner plays detective, trying to suss out who knocked up his punkette mother back in 1980. His mother refuses to tell him, and Skinner's hoping that finding out who his father is will help him stop drinking and womanizing, and generally being a bad person. This leads him to try and track down various chefs who worked at the restaurant his mother waitressed at in 1980, and takes him from the inner sanctum of the local blowhard celebrity chef all the way to San Francisco. Skinner and Brian, while archetypes who are yin and yang are well-depicted. Unfortunately, the supporting cast of characters is not nearly as memorable as in books past, and all too often, people drift in for a scene or two and drift out, never to reappear. There are scenes, characters, and situations which add nothing at all to the story.

Probably the main reason the book fails is that the reader knows too much. The Dorian Grayesque curse is explained from almost the very start, and yet one has to slog through another 250 pages of Brian's suffering and inability to understand what's wrong with him. Much more problematically, the big "mystery" over the identity of Skinner's father will probably be guessed by reader extremely early on. So, the big revelation which should carry a punch at the end, lacks any impact whatsoever. There are certainly plenty of novels where the reader is in on the big secret and yet still utterly engaged by the storytelling -- this is not one of them. Despite some trademark flourishes (notably an anal rape scene and a grotesque Monty Pythonesque sex scene involving a witch), Welsh fails to unleash his vivid imagination in the way that his readers have come to expect in this tedious disappointment.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 21 reviews

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About the Author:

Irvine WelshIrvine Welsh was born in Leith in 1958 and was raised in a suburb of Edinburgh, Scotland. His mother worked as a waitress, his father was a dock worker then a carpet salesman, who died when Welsh was 25. Welsh left Ainslie Park Secondary School when he was 16 and then completed a City and Guilds course in electrical engineering. He became an apprentice TV repairman until an electric shock persuaded him to move on to a series of other jobs. He left Edinburgh for the London punk scene in 1978. In 1982, he realized that he had a drug problem and cleaned up by the mid-80's. He returned to his native city where he worked in the Council's housing department. He gained a degree in computer science and studied for an MBA at Heriot Watt University.

Welsh gained notoriety with his first novel, Trainspotting for its depiction of Edinburgh heroin culture and won the Scottish Arts Council Book Award and was longlisted for the Booker Prize.

Irving moved to the U.S. in 2002 to teach at Columbia College in Chicago. It is there that he met his second wife, Beth Quinn, who is much younger than him. They married in 2005. He was previously married to Anne Ansty for almost 20 years.

He and Beth currently live in Dublin, Ireland. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014