The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh – digested read

‘I must go back to being Frank Begbie – then ahm gonna gouge out yer eyes un let ye bleid ta death’

Jim Francis enjoys a transcendental moment with his daughter, Eve, on a deserted Californian beach. Then, in the distance, he sees something that connotes trouble. Two men are approaching his wife, Melanie, and their other daughter, Grace. Jim covers the sand like a gazelle crossing the burnt savannah.

“Move along,” he says evenly.

The two menacing men recognise a man who is more menacing than them and move along.

“You’re so brave, Jim,” coos Melanie. “I know you were a bit of a rough diamond in the past, but I always knew you had it in you to become an internationally renowned artist once we’d got you out of Scotland. Just like Irvine. But all the same, I don’t think you really needed to torch those menacing men’s car.”

An unnecessary flashback to how the four-year-old Francis Begbie stoved in the head of an old man before committing his first car-jacking.

The Blade Artist Irvine Welsh illustration Matt Blease

The phone rang, and the tense changed. It was his sister Elspeth, whom he hadn’t seen for nine years, calling from Edinburgh. “Bad news,” she says, so doped up on anti-depressants she slips into the present tense again. “I’m afraid your son Sean has been murdered.”

“I’m afraid I must leave our luminous palladian life for a while,” Jim says, remembering that everything about California had to be described in language no ordinary person would ever use. “I must go back to be being Frank ‘Franco’ Begbie.”

The first person Franco sees on his arrival is his old pal Juice Terry. “Still makin scud flicks?” he asks.

“Aye,” says Terry, happy to drop out of the narrative. It was kind of Irvine to give him time off for good behaviour for this book. Trainspotting was Irvine’s rash that just wouldn’t heal. Either that, or it was his cash cow.

“Yer lookin morbidly obese, yer fat bitch,” Franco said to Elspeth. He’d never liked his sister. No use pretending otherwise.

“I spose youse goan ter find oot who murdaired wee Sean,” she replies.

“Aye he might a bin a skaggy poofter and I neva laiked him but he wair me bairn.”

Another flashback to Franco committing his second murder, aged seven, while his grandaddy cheers him on. Or something.

Francis walks into Leith and bumps into another son he had temporarily forgotten aboot. “You’re a cunt, Michael,” he said.

“An ur a cunt an all,” Michael replies.

Walking past several other people who may or may not be his children, Franco goes to see Larry, an acquaintance from the old days.

“Edinburgh aint wha i used tae be,” says Larry. “It wa tha new lad Anton Miller what kilt ya Sean.”

The Blade Artist by Irvine Welsh

Flashback to Jim facing down the two menacing dudes on the Californian beach after sending Melanie and the girls home. He pulls out a gun and shoots one through the head and disembowels the other with a knife. “No one messes with my girls,” says Jim, before throwing the stiff in the ocean.

Franco has been wandering through Edinburgh for days. He’s made one wee lassie relapse on the booze, but he’s yet to draw blood. Thankfully Anton Miller turns up.

“It wasnae me tha kilt Sean,” said Anton.

“Ah knows, but you’re a deid man anywa,” says Franco, pouring petrol all over his bod and setting him alight.

“Hi,” says Ned.

“Hi,” said Franco, sticking a knitting needle through his liver.

“It were me that kilt Sean,” says Larry.

“No i wairnt but ahm gonna gouge oot yer eyes un let ye bleid tae death anywa,” says Franco.

Franco reaches the top of a ladder only to feel hot pish splashing on his head. It was Michael.

“I kilt Sean,” says Michael. “I could nae stand hum bean a poofter.”

“Yer kilt yer bro,” said Franco. “Respec.”

“Ah, there you are,” says Melanie, having flown in from LA. “How’s my little Jimmy-Wimmy.”

“Your little Jimmy-Wimmy is just peachy,” says Jimmy-Wimmy.

“Edinboro sure is empty these days.”

“That’s because I’ve killed everyone here.”

“You’re so funny. Let’s go back to LA. We might even meet Rent Boy on the flight home.”

Digested read, digested: The taking-the-piss artist.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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