Monday, October 27, 2008

The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs

I've read nearly everything by Irvine Welsh because I think he's a brilliant novelist. While The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs is by no means a great book, there are flashes of that genius within its pages. The book is at its best when dealing with the rough characters in and around Leith; unfortunately, and I never thought I would say this about a Welsh novel, it starts out boring.

The protagonist of Bedroom Secrets is Danny Skinner, a charming and good-looking 23-year-old bastard (literally) who spends his time drinking heavily while managing just enough attention to his job and his girlfriend to hold on to them both by a thread. Enter Brian Kibby, a 21-year-old virginal nerd who joins his company and appears positioned to receive a promotion ahead of Skinner. For reasons he cannot understand, even the thought of Kibby fills Skinner with such intense hatred he actually hexes him while bingeing heavily one night. From this point on, any physical repercussions of Skinner's actions happen to Kibby: hangovers, black eyes, and so on.

It would be easy to make Skinner a despicable character, but Welsh does not fall into this trap. Rather, the curse he unknowingly unleashed leads Skinner to display nuanced layers of sensitivity and empathy. Ultimately he realizes that he cannot drink his adversary into the ground, which in turn leads him to genuinely care about Kibby's fate. Kibby never gets the reader's sympathy because he's just a wimp who plays video games and goes to Star Trek conventions. As the reader knows the cause of his unexplained ailments, it's simply the playing out of a drama with very little mystery.

Throughout all of this, Skinner's search for his father likewise falls flat. His mother refuses to tell him the circumstances of his conception, but Skinner determines it must have been one of the "master chefs" she worked with in the early 1980s. While this major plotline didn't do much for me, as a device it allowed for the introduction of the best characters and tangential stories of the book. This is where you find the trademark Welsh I love: hard partying, drugs, sex, booze, and the Scots dialect.

In all, I enjoyed the book, but would only recommend it to someone who has read Welsh's greater novels: start with Trainspotting, and if you want more, read Glue, Maribou Stork Nightmares, and Porno.

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