# Novel《BRAN-NEW ! + The Most Terrifying Character In Trainspotting Returns -- With His Own Fiction》IRVINE WELSH - THE BLADE ARTIST
The Blade Artist is a 2016 novel by Scottish writer Irvine Welsh. The novel is set in the same universe as Trainspotting, catching up with Begbie's past and present. Begbie, going by the name of Jim Francis, is now a Scottish expatriate artist in California and returns to Scotland for a funeral. His wife Melanie and their two daughters suddenly realize that Jim has a dark past. Jim Francis has finally found the perfect life – and is now unrecognisable, even to himself. A successful painter and sculptor, he lives quietly with his wife, Melanie, and their two young daughters, in an affluent beach town in California. Some say he’s a fake and a con man, while others see him as a genuine visionary. But Francis has a very dark past, with another identity and a very different set of values. When he crosses the Atlantic to his native Scotland, for the funeral of a murdered son he barely knew, his old Edinburgh community expects him to take bloody revenge. But as he confronts his previous life, all those friends and enemies – and, most alarmingly, his former self – Francis seems to have other ideas. When Melanie discovers something gruesome in California, which indicates that her husband’s violent past might also be his psychotic present, things start to go very bad, very quickly. The Blade Artist is an elegant, electrifying novel – ultra violent but curiously redemptive – and it marks the return of one of modern fiction’s most infamous, terrifying characters, the incendiary Francis Begbie from Trainspotting. Jim Francis is an expat Scot living the American dream in California. He has a lovely family, a house a few minutes from the beach and is making a good living as an artist. His art is a bit twisted - sculptured heads of the rich and famous with their faces cut open as if in a knife attack, but these are in great demand so, hey ho, whatever goes in the land of the free. But Jim has a colourful past as a man of violence with many years in prison behind him. He gets a message from Scotland to say that his son has been murdered. Francis returns to bury his son. When Francis gets off the plane in Edinburgh he returns to a world that he had left behind, a seedy world of pimps and drugs and fights, a world that knew him as Francis Begbie - a hard man and a sadistic killer. Begbie is torn between his past, old foes and bad habits, and his present life as a moderately renowned artist. In the quest to find out what happened to his son (chillingly more for the sake of his reputation rather than any sense of love for a child he hardly knew) he is drawn back into the gangland underworld. Cue mayhem and violence, black humour and a roller coaster ride of lies, stealing, cheating and deceit. We also get some back story in the form of flashbacks - Begbie, the making of a monster - to show us where the explosive rage came from. The most wonderful and important parts of The Blade Artist are the flashbacks to Begbie's younger life. We're finally allowed to understand and explore what's made him the way he is. Although his actions are extremely difficult to justify, his reasoning behind them is made clear, and we begin to understand this monster and his world of pain. Welsh does here what he does best; relatable psychos, understandable yet shocking emotion, a fuck-tonne of glorious violence, and a couple of cameos from some of his best characters. This has been a real change of pace, though; a journey through love and destruction with the biggest character of all. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Review From The Guardian The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh review – a troublesome follow-up to Trainspotting Edinburgh’s hardman Begbie is given an unconvincing makeover as a sculptor, family man and torturer with moral intent At the end of Trainspotting, the characters’ lives seemed mapped out until death – apart from Mark Renton, who gave fate and his friends the lastminute slip by stealing the proceeds of a drug deal and escaping to Amsterdam. But everyone else’s doom looked fixed. Thinking about psycho hardman Francis Begbie’s newborn son, Michael, Renton could see the family’s future clearly: “That kid’s name wis doon fae HM Prison Saughton when it was still in [Begbie’s girlfriend] June’s womb, as sure as the foetus of a rich bastard is Eton-bound. While this process is going on, daddy Franco will be whair he is now: the boozer.” But that certainty didn’t stop Welsh from returning to his characters, first in Trainspotting sequel Porno, then in prequel Skagboys. And now there’s The Blade Artist: the return of Begbie, who is not in the boozer or even called Begbie any more. Reformed and rechristened, he has become Jim Francis, an artist living in California with a beautiful wife and two doted-on daughters. Although at first he appears to have bucked Renton’s premonitions, Begbie’s salvation quickly starts to come unstuck – first when his California family is threatened, and then when he learns that his younger son, Sean, has been murdered in Edinburgh. The dramatic rehabilitation, in any case, is implied to be somewhat superficial. Begbie has overcome illiteracy so he can settle down with A Clockwork Orange on his Kindle. His art, too, is not that far from his old life. He makes meticulously lifelike, grotesquely mutilated busts of celebrities. Just as in his Edinburgh days he found people would “whisperingly condemn his violence with these sour, baleful expressions until they wanted some cunt sorting out”, his art similarly makes him a sanctioned channel for aggression. Whether he’s working on clay or living flesh, “My talent was for hurting people,” he thinks. So it’s little surprise when Begbie starts to unleash the old ultraviolence. Back in Edinburgh, he turns gumshoe, applying his particular skills to the question of who killed Sean – although why he bothers is never convincingly explained, as he certainly doesn’t love his son. In fact, he cares so little about his children in Edinburgh that he finds himself sympathising with the police indifference to Sean’s murder. “You always bet on the sleek thoroughbred rather than the Clydesdale,” he thinks, comparing his two families. “If he differentiates his own offspring in this manner, how can he blame the polis for their lack of interest.” Actually Begbie does a lot of thinking, and that’s a problem. Begbie, whose first words in Trainspotting were “Loosen up fir fuck sakes!”, has acquired the internal monologue of a moral philosopher. Welsh has never been over-scrupulous about having his characters speak for him, but it’s disconcerting when he turns Begbie into a pulpit and starts delivering such unlikely lines as: “The truth is that we’ve moved beyond democracy, universality and equality in the eyes of the law and, de facto, embraced a hierarchical, elitist world view.” It’s not just that the characterisation is unconvincing. It’s a dereliction of everything that made Begbie such a nightmare and thrill ride. The Begbie of Trainspotting terrorises because his capacity to surrender all self-control in acts of sudden, orgiastic violence forces everyone around him to be exquisitely responsive to his moods. Now, all the tripwire psychology has been chucked out and Begbie has become the Scottish cousin of Jigsaw from the Saw films – instead of pub-fight explosions, he stages exquisite dioramas of torture with heavy moral intent. If his thoughts on justice seem unsubtle, wait until you see what he does with a set of pulleys and some power tools. Sometimes Welsh seems to be taunting himself about his own reputation: Begbie’s brother-in-law “wistfully intones” that he “always fancied writing the great Scottish novel”. It’s a moment that’s reminiscent of Alasdair Gray’s debut Lanark, in which author-proxy the conjuror ironically declares: “What The Aeneid had been to the Roman Empire my epic would be to the Scottish Cooperative Wholesale Republic.” Like Gray, Welsh’s politics are a mix of hopeful socialism and colonised cynicism – but in the end, and ruinously, it’s the cynicism that takes charge in The Blade Artist. If Begbie’s savage sculptures are just pub brawls refined into clay, that doesn’t reflect very well on the revolutionary potential of Welsh’s own violent art. And if the politics miss the mark, so does everything else. As detective fiction it’s shakily assembled, as a horror novel it can’t outpace cinematic torture porn, and as social realism it routinely sends its own plausibility up in smoke. The Blade Artist is a long way from the vivacious amorality of Trainspotting, all the more obviously so because it’s stamping the same ground. Maybe Welsh – like Begbie – needs to make a break with his past. About the Author IRVINE WELSH is the author of nine previous novels and four books of shorter fiction. He currently lives in Chicago.
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