You Must Read This
5:00 am
Mon November 14, 2011

Trapped In A Nightmare: A Sweet, Funny, Brutal Read

Ismet Prcic is the author of Shards.

Have you ever read a novel that is so propulsive you don't want to put it down (not even to play with your new kitten), and so well-plotted that it doesn't reveal itself to you until its 288th page — which just happens to be the book's final page as well? Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh is that kind of a novel.

On first glance, if you simply picked it up and shuffled its pages, it might not look appealing to some readers.

You might say to me: I don't have time to negotiate its typographically designed pages that sometimes resemble concrete poetry. I don't have time to mouth all the words written phonetically in a Scottish dialect to understand them. I can't stomach all the four letter words and the violence. I have kids to feed, Izzy! Nonetheless, you should pick this book up and forthwith. It's that worth it.

Welsh may be most familiar to American film audiences for playing Mikey Forrester in the cult movie Trainspotting, based on a tremendous novel that he also penned. Welsh is a wizard of language, funny and brutal, provocative and sweet.

His phrases twirl like dervishes, he surprises you, makes you laugh and cringe, gets you to the edge of what you can handle and keeps you there, teetering, making you scared but giddy. It's a rare kind of talent.

The book concerns one Roy Strang, a soccer hooligan, among other things, who grew up in Thatcher's Britain in the projects of Edinburgh. Roy is in a coma after a failed suicide attempt, but the reader is somehow privy to his thoughts. In a visually daring way, Welsh displays three levels of Roy's unconsciousness.

On the highest level, Roy is aware of the people coming in and out of his hospital room. He hears his family members arguing around his bed and the nurses talking to him, changing him, giving him sponge baths.

Often what he hears causes Roy to run away deeper into his mind, into a phantasmagorical virtual Africa. There, Roy and his imaginary friend, a footballer, are on a fantasy quest to eradicate a terrible scavenger-predator: Marabou Stork, the killer of pretty pink flamingos.

When Roy's mind is unable to run away into fantasy land, it is forced to go back into his past and remember what he so desperately does not want to remember. Most of the book is told from this middle perspective. The reader witnesses the journey of a mind pulverized by violence, a mind desperately trying to rationalize its narrative, even rewrite it — a tendency that reminds the reader that even unsavory, terrible humans are just that, human.

Welsh is often unabashed and blunt in the way he depicts violence, so if you're particularly squeamish, some portions of the book can be daunting. But as the narrative progresses, the reader realizes that this novel is an amazing study of human violence, showing us how victims become perpetrators, how perpetrators become victims, and how the bystanders are also responsible because they don't do anything to stop it. It all ends in a crescendo that makes the reader understand why they had to be pushed to the brink.

You Must Read This is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman and Sophie Adelman.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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