The demise of a relationship in Irvine Welsh’s Crime

I love the cover

Been reading Crime by Irvine Welsh. And I cannot stress enough just HOW much I identify with the lead character Detective Inspector Ray Lennox right now. The overriding emotion through the first quarter of the book is that of extreme and utter claustrophobia.

Not all reviews* have been praising it. However, this one is.

You never know what you’re going to get with Irvine Welsh, other than guaranteed intelligence. His most ardent fans willingly admit that some of his middle works were a touch inclined to pointless scatology and druggie meanderings. But what you get here, fans will be delighted to learn, is a triumph.

Crime is not destined to become a cult book. It’s better than that.

Lennox is a cop who is in Miami on medical vacation with his fiancee Trudi (who has been described as very pretty and so on)…wait let me use the language on the back cover.

Detective Inspector Ray Lennox has fled to Miami to escape the aftermath of a mental breakdown induced by stress (at the job) and cocaine abuse, and a harrowing child-sex murder case back in Edinburgh. But his fiancee, Trudi, is only interested in planning their wedding, and soon Lennox is cast adrift, alone in Florida.

I have just copied passages from the book to try to explain to myself that this all is really written. It is tough reading, the words do not come to you easily. But it is some of the most scary writing I have read in a long long time.

(Ray is on a flight with Trudi next to him)

Page 9

She nudges him, then sulks – You do still fancy me, Ray? And she does that thing with her breasts again.

–Course ah do. Lennox feels a constricting of the muscles around his chest and throat. His windpipe has become a straw. He is trapped; hemmed in beside the window, far too small to offer escape into the oblivion of the sky. He looks at his crippled, bandaged right hand, a bag of broken knuckles, phalanxes, and metacarpals. How many more would go, how long would it take for both fists to be pulped trying to punch a hole through this plane?

Acute Claustrophobia (Image from That Yellow Bastard, Frank Miller)

Page 17

Then without warning, he’s hit by an acute desperation to get outside. The bathroom, the bedroom, they seem too small. He drips over to the sink. Rubs at himself with a towel. Fills a glass with water and downs two antidepressants he has left out. The Seroxat. Consumed like M&Ms. At least one hundred milligrams more than the maximum recommended daily dose. The anxiety isn’t as bad when you’re on them. Yes, it’s always there, you still feel it, it just doesn’t bother you as much. But he hasn’t brought many; he wants to stop them. Thinks the sun will help. Light is good for depression. A natural cure. A good dosage of winter sun will do you more good than all the pills in the world. Somebody had said that. Trudi (his fiancee)? Toal (his boss)? He can’t think. But they were right. It was a relief to leave the cold and dark of winter Edinburgh.

Beneath the surface bonhomie, there was desperation, a barely submerged fear that the next year would be just as miserable as the last. He steps out of the bathroom, towel round his waist. The tumbler of water is still in his hand. He sets it down on the glass table by the phone.

Trudi is lying on the bed in her black underwear still reading Perfect Bride. Cooling off under the overhead fan that augments the air con. Lennox admires her feet, with the red painted toes.

……….

You can’t keep clipping your nails, Ray, Trudi says, – your thumb’s bleeding! Compulsive behavior!

He turns to observe her lying on the bed, reading her magazine.

– I have tae or I pick at them. I need to keep them short.

But she’s no longer concerned; her mouth has gone round and her eyes stare at the magazine as if seeing something she can’t comprehend or quite believe she’s reading. Before, he might have found that look sexy. Caressed the inside of her bronzed thigh. Up to where several pubic hairs curled enticingly outside her panties. Put his hand between her legs. Or maybe on her breast. His lips pressing on hers. His cock’s belligerent push against her thigh.

But now she looks other-worldly.

Page 32

The problem in acquiescing to the idea that he’s depressed, or even it’s more benign bedfellow, ‘under stress’, is that it intrinsically means the ceding of his moral assurances. The potential existed for every comment he made to be viewed as a symptom of the disease. And he senses that Trudi’s management of his supposed condition is about control (hers) and disenfranchisement (his). Her logic is that his thoughts will take him back to the trauma of his work, therefore all independent deliberation by him is inherently bad. She will replace this with her projects, with nice things to think about, like the wedding, the new place to live, the furniture, the future children, the next house, that limiting narrative unto death that so terrifies him.

Page 54

She is bad with hangovers. When he comes back into the room, Trudi is lying on the bed. Her arm is draped across her face, covering her eyes from the sun. She wears only a sky-blue thong. It contrasts nicely with her sunbed-tanned skin. Why had she not gotten under the covers? The light ribs her body. He can see the hardness in it. Gym and diet.  Now he feels something in his gut. Saliva ducts working in his mouth.

He gets on to the bed and grabs at her breast; an awkward and adolescent lunge that surprises him as much as it does her. Trudi pulls away, wincing. – My nipples are sore, she grumbles in protest – It’s my period coming on.

Lennox feels his body relax in relief. Sex has been avoided again. He can’t believe it; he is actually happy. He is doing everything in his power to avoid shagging her. Usually it is all he wants. How long has it been? A cold sweat breaks out on his forehead, across his back. He knows that if it doesn’t happen soon, they’ll be finished.

Page 56

It’s mid afternoon when they wake up. They’re both ravenous. Lennox feels like his brain is expanding and contracting in his skull, fraying its outer edges against rough, unyielding bone.

They get ready to head outside, into the heat. <Lennox clothes description> Trudi wears a short, white pleated skirt. Her legs are long and brown. A pink vesty top. Her arms also tan, her hair tied back. Shades. Outside, his arm goes to her waist as they walk in silence. It’s the first time she’s worn that skirt without him getting an erection. Unforeseen fear grips him again.

Page 36

Trudi and Dolores have evidently enjoyed their early evening shopping – The best time to do it in this heat, Dolores explains, as Trudi defiantly holds up some purchases at Lennox – It’s stuff I need, Ray. I know that we’re meant to be saving up…but I never ask what you spend your money on.

Resentment bubbles in Lennox. As if I care what she spends her money on. Who’s asking questions? Ah’ve no said a fuckin word.

–I know that look, Raymond Lennox.

–What look? Lennox protests through his semi-drunken fug.

Blah blah blah. Then friend asks Ray later,

-So why the long face, Raymondo?

-The long face is on her through there. Lennox twists around and looks in, fuddled and aggressive in drink. – I don’t give a suffering fuck what she buys. And that makes her worse. What I was meant to say was: ‘C’mon, baby, we’re supposed to be saving up for the wedding,’ so she could go, ‘Don’t spend all your money on drink then.’ Ah didnae gie her thet satisfaction, so she got nippy and had that argument anyway: with herself. Only it’s worse now because I supposedly don’t care aboot the poxy wedding.

Ginger’s eyes take on a manic gleam as they dance in his head. Lennox has the sense that he is watching something moving behind him – This is your first night here?

-Aye. He briefly glimpses round, but there’s nothing.

-And you’re on holiday?

-Aye.

-And you’re on med leave after stress breakdown?

Lennox can see where this is heading —Aye.

–And you’re seeing an old buddy you havnae seen in five years?

–Aye, Lennox hesitantly replies, –but aw the same, I –

Ginger cuts him off. — And she’s been hassling ye wi wedding plans?

–Well, aye, I suppose-

-Tell her hose three magical little words every woman needs tae hear now and again, he smiles in defiant cheer, — Get tae fuck!

From other reviews*

Nonce Upon A Time

Welsh sends out mixed signals about how seriously he wants his readers to take all this. There are sociological musings and rides on luxury yachts, thoughts on psychic victimhood and Hannibal Lecter-ish speeches; most of all, there are pleas for sensitivity and fantasies of beating up paedophiles. Some of the extensive Edinburgh flashbacks show worrying signs of solemn intent. But running jokes and consciously ludicrous moments also come thick and fast. There’s a moving hymn to the American dream (Miami Beach strikes Lennox as the sort of place where “a newcomer could take his Colombian, Haitian, Cuban or Scots family and they’d proudly say: this cunt’s done awright”), and Welsh even finds some kind words for Guy Ritchie, aka “an English guy who made crime films. Lennox had gone to see one. He’d liked it. It was nonsense of course, like most crime in fiction and on television, but it kept the action moving along. It entertained.”

From the Living Scotsman

Welsh has worked hard at the plot: he has ripped off a few crime novels and spliced it with the usual clichés of his fear and loathing in Scotland, a topic that, like the seaside donkey, now needs a very long holiday. Realism rests on a collusive pact between author and reader: we choose to believe that the words on the page represent life truly if the author tries to make the book and its constituent elements – plot, character, events – as credible as possible. When these elements are as lifelike and fluid as garish marionettes being jerked around by a puppeteer with broken fingers, it is difficult to enter into that contract with the author or his work. If you want to read a real novel about paedophilia, try AM Homes’s The End Of Alice; if you want exceptional crime-fiction with a damaged, alcoholic anti-hero, try the Matt Scudder series by Lawrence Block. Whatever you do, don’t touch this particular book.

From TimesOnline,

Irvine Welsh’s one-word titles – we’ve already had Ecstasy, Filth, Glue and Porno – are like advertising slogans, strong on suggestion but weak on meaning. His latest novel could as easily be called Sex; it contains scenes of remembered sex, fantasised sex, failed sex, oral sex (both voluntary and involuntary), paid-for sex, adulterous sex, filmed sex, cruel sex, underage sex and other assorted activities everyone knows we do to please and harm our bodies and minds. This being Welsh’s world, the book also features lots of swearing and drugs, and a dead cat crawling with maggots.

Welsh tries diligently to muster his fictional devices, such as switching narrative pronouns from “he” to “you” as Ray’s bewildered mind is seen from different angles, but the overall effect is one of lumbering improbability. (Dr. Gonzo’s snip – this is exactly what makes this similar in style so to say, as Rose Madder by Stephen King. Not easy to read. But well, it is never easy to peer into someone’s head)

It is hard to be interested in what foul-mouthed or inarticulate characters have to say. Welsh’s solution is to put his own prose on stilts, but it frequently collapses. (A peep into the reviewer’s head, and the kind of person he himself is )

And a reader reviwer in the comments section from Irvine Welsh tackles crime badly,

What a pathetic little man Mr Chadwick is, actively looking for the slightest of reasons to slag off a fine book and doing so badly. Crime is hard to put down, emotional and hilarious at times. And to answer the first line of this “review”, Porno, Sex Lives of the Masterchefs and If You Liked School You’ll Love Work are also well worth a look at, hardly “patchy” to say the least.

Forget the wannabe ranting of an advert-ridden, free newspaper “reviewer” and read this book, particularly if the colloquialism of Welsh’s earlier works was a bit much for you and you prefer a maturer read or even more so if you’re a fan of his other books, was refreshing to have a return to some of the characters in Filth rather than the usual Leith crew.

Crime is class, period

G. Pearson, Somerstown, England, 16/1/2009 19:41

And well, the absolutely beautiful piece on Irvine Welsh and Crime by NY Times

Irvine Welsh is one of our most discriminating connoisseurs of depravity, a savant of scum. The areas of his expertise include the heroin den, the porno shoot and the overflowing toilet in the men’s room stall. His characters tend to be addicted to drugs, sex, violence and alcohol. They curse so frequently it’s almost impossible to quote a full sentence of dialogue in a family newspaper — Welsh’s evocation of Scottish slang could alone be the subject of a graduate thesis paper (“Spastics, Spazwits and Hoors: Mimesis in the Literature of Irvine Welsh”). Critics too often confuse his tawdry subject matter with a desire to shock for shock’s sake, and claim to get depressed by the grimness of his characters’ circumstances. Scatological, ornery, cruel and obscene: yes, Welsh is all of these, but very rarely is he grim or, for that matter, depressing. The excitement of Welsh’s writing derives from the perverse glee he takes in excavating our lowest obsessions. Anyone who doesn’t realize this is a spazwit.

Welsh has fun with the drug addicts, alcoholics, bigots and corrupt policemen who crowd his fiction, but in “Crime,” his 10th book, he has taken on the lowest class of degenerates — pedophiles. There is nothing funny, or sympathetic, about a rapist of children. Welsh realizes this and it shows. “Crime” is his soberest novel yet, uncharacteristically earnest in tone and at times, yes, grim.

Breaking from noir convention, Welsh’s detective is not fixated on a case unsolved or botched; Lennox’s investigation is successful and he has put away the murderer, but he remains obsessed by the enormity of the criminal act. “His thoughts are like a landslide,” Welsh writes. “They seem to subside and settle, then before he knows it they’re off again, heading for the same downhill destination. The crime. Always plummeting inexorably towards the crime.”

Lennox’s boss orders him to take a holiday, to recover not only from the criminal investigation but also from his cocaine, pill and alcohol habits. Wouldn’t Orlando have done just as well? Key West? Tampa? Sending a coke addict to Miami is a bit like sending a sex addict to Bangkok — but in Welsh’s universe, it could be no other way.

A secondary purpose of Lennox’s holiday is to plan his wedding to his longtime girlfriend, Trudi, an insecure “gym rat” who is made out to be Lennox’s rock and salvation. This is hard to credit, especially when Trudi, described at one point as “shrewlike” is constantly asking Lennox things like, “You do still fancy me, Ray?” while thrusting her breasts in his face or snoring, “loud, truculent snarls that could be coming from a drunken laborer.” So when Lennox ditches Trudi one night and slips in with a sleazy pack of local cocaine-bingeing, bed-hopping lowlifes, Welsh loyalists will no doubt feel an overwhelming sense of relief and perhaps the urge to high-five one another.

In terms of a tone, which you shall realize much later, the lead character, Ray Lennox is a very real life depiction of Hartigan and the novel Crime is walking along the lines of That Yellow Bastard from the Sin City series.

It's all empty

Fair trade

One thought on “The demise of a relationship in Irvine Welsh’s Crime

  1. Pingback: The aging and depressed Cop as lead character « Gonzo – Using an unconventional, exaggerated and highly subjective style, often when the reporter is part of the story

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