Book Review: The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, by Irvine Welsh

Ah, Irvine Welsh. There is a man who kens how to write about gadges and radges and boozing and punk and drugs and sex. And he does it awfully well. We all know Trainspotting, the book-cum-film which launch a myriad of TV and film careers. In The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, Welsh treads on familiar territory by telling the story of Edinburgh’s Danny Skinner, a drug loving, alcoholic misogynist, with destructive tendencies to boot. In the book Skinner has an unhealthy hatred for Brian Kibby, his new co-worker, and eventually sets out to destroy the boy via somewhat magical means – which is to say he wishes that Kibby could have all of his hangovers and come downs – and like Granton Star Cause from the Acid House, his wish is granted.

The opening section of the book starts with a flashback to Skinner’s mum bedding a conquest or two when out watching The Clash. Thereafter, we are introduced to a variety of characters, through a mixture of first and third person narrative. The book then sort of meanders through a few months of Skinner destroying Kibby’s liver and organs but without him [Skinner] having to reap any of the sorrow that goes with it: until remorse sets in that is. But, any more detail there and I would spoil it for you.

Skinner is haunted by the fact that he never knew his father and builds up some preposterous theories on who his old man may be, and you know what, you can decide for yourself in the end. So, watch for the clues!

This is typical Welsh fare, and as is a sometimes overlooked strength of his work, it is exceptionally well plotted and written. Sure, the subject matter is close to the bone with scenes of male rape, strong language, heavy drug references and gratuitous violence, but underneath it all is a character study showing how one man destroyed himself by making another in his image. Welsh cleverly uses a jejune mix of narrative perspectives in order to leave the reader confounded as to what the real personalities of the book’s characters are. His fusing of Skinner’s (and Kibby’s) first person telling with some unseen raconteur explaining the same scene is quite well done, making it easy to hate-like-detest-empathise-and-condemn Skinner in equal measure.

Being critical for a moment, there are some scenes which are trotted out mainly to benefit a chapter or two of mirth without adding anything to overall story – but these tend to be quite funny and therefore you quickly forgive these interludes.

I actually saw Welsh doing a reading from this book at Waterstone’s in Glasgow a few years back (a bottle of Stella with the ticket and £5 off the book), but as is my want, I have only just gotten round to reading it. Which I now recognize to be a shame as The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs is probably Welsh’s strongest book in a while, and certainly his best since Trainspotting. Worth a read.




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