Irvine Welsh

Review: The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins

Irvine Welsh

Longtime fans will not instantly recognize the author in this new work. Rather than the gray-skied schemes of twinsScotland, the drama unfolds in sun-kissed Miami, and missing is the phonetic text and colorful British slang.

Not absent, however, are the troubled characters, existential peril and sharp-tongued satire expected from the author of Trainspotting.

In his brilliant new book, Welsh entangles the lives of a body-obsessed fitness instructor, an overweight artist and a child-abuse victim bent on his pound of flesh. The three meet on a bridge, when Lucy, seeing a gunman chasing after two homeless men, intercedes to stop the attack. All of this is caught on tape by Lena, who becomes obsessed with the feisty trainer.

Lucy, of course, becomes an instant celebrity, and entertains visions of her own television show and fitness empire. Until it is learned that the men she saved were sexual predators.

Though functioning as satire of social networking, media voyeurism and the fickleness of fame, Sex Lives becomes the story of Lucy and Lena’s budding and devolving codependent and abusive relationship. We are taken for more than a few dark turns by an author famous for dark turns.

I’m a longtime fan of Welsh’s work, but I have to admit that I’ve found his newer books hit and miss. Recent novels have entertained, but lacked the gut-punch of Marabou Stork Nightmares, Filth and Glue. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins is different from his other novels, but reveals a skilled author straining the old vinegar and aiming it at fresh targets.

Unsettling Chapters: Marabou Stork Nightmares

Unsettling Chapters is a month-long celebration of dark fiction brought to you by Ensuing Chapters book blog and Transgress digital magazine. Every day through Halloween, we’ll feature reviews, discussions and recommendations of some of the most frightening books ever printed. Check back or subscribe to our feed for your daily dose of darkness.

For all the horror film and literature I consume, people sometimes assume that I scare easy. Well, not so much. Horror has its visceral thrills, but for me, it’s more of an aesthetic experience. I enjoy the atmosphere more than the scares, and find humor in the most gruesome onscreen butchering. In general, I’m a tough nut to disturb.

Which brings us to Marabou Stork Nightmares.

Don’t consider this a recommendation. Consider this a challenge.

This novel has the distinction of being the only book that has kept me up at nights as an adult. The reader survives this book as much as they enjoy it. Be warned, this is a tense work of psychological brutality that forces you to confront human nature. It’s a case study of devolutionary psychopathology, of working class nihilism and the addictive lure of violence. And a stellar piece of literature you’ll never forget.

Of course, Irvine Welsh is best known for his debut novel, Trainspotting. Marabou Stork is his second full-length, first published in 1995. The story is narrated by Roy Strang, a comatose soccer hooligan with a troubled past. We experience the story from inside Strang’s head, which creates a narrative as compelling as it is disjointed. He oscillates through multiple levels of consciousness, which are represented visually with different fonts that run forward, back and sometimes up the page. This textual manipulation further immerses the reader in the nightmare.

When closest to death, Strang endures wild hallucinations centered on a safari in which he is hunting the marabou stork, a vicious scavenger that will eat other animals alive. Strang’s life story weaves throughout this psychedelic and troubling narrative, until the fractured shards of his memory come back together.

I once lent Marabou Stork Nightmares to a friend, an addict who was well-acquainted with the back alleys of hell, and he returned it two days later. He’d finished the book in less than 40 hours, in part because it was so good that he couldn’t stop reading—and in part because he was too troubled to sleep.

Any book that elicits this type of visceral response is a must-read for Halloween.

Welsh has also written a number of horrific short stories, most of which appear in his stellar collection The Acid House. Recommended stories include, “The Shooter,” “Eurotrash” and the delightful “Snuff.”

Parts of this post are adapted from an earlier article of mine, “Thirteen horrifying reads for Halloween,” which appeared in the Boulder Camera in 2008.