I’ve read quite a few of Irvine Welsh’s novels: Trainspotting, Porno, Filth, Ecstasy and I can’t help but think that once you’ve read one (or possibly two), you’ve pretty much read them all. Drugs, sex, violence, sexism, homophobia – that kind of car-crash literature that you don’t want to like but somehow can’t help it and of course, is shocking for the sake of being shocking.
I was hardly surprised, then, when Reheated Cabbage, for the most part, provides much of the same – and not necessarily for a positive result. Even the title is reminiscent of an over-done, soggy and slightly distasteful experience and this proves pretty much the rule for Welsh, as yet again the characters, themes and supposed-shocks are re-hashed, re-visited and once more rammed down your throat. A shame because Welsh, like a good cabbage, has the potential to be crisp and delicious. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Welsh when I first read his work, as his repeated feature upon my book shelf testifies but enough is enough – I’m bored already. Okay, after reading Trainspotting, I leapt into Porno to discover where the characters went but now, after all this time, I don’t care for Begbie and Juice and the admittedly more background crowd being dredged up.
Generally, I dislike collections of short-stories. It feels like the reader has to work a lot harder than with a novel. That bit at the beginning of the novel, when you acquaint yourself with the characters and setting, those moments before you are fully taken in the stream of the word-river, when you are still painfully aware that you are reading – they seem to happen over and over again with short story collections, making you feel like you are putting a heck of a lot more in than you are getting out. So generally, I avoid them. But actually, the end of one story in Reheated Cabbage and the beginning of another was a blessing and a relief – maybe, just maybe, he’ll try something different this time – a new idea? A new character? A new structure? Please, Mr Welsh! Give me something!
And that he did. At least partly. The Roswell Incident and the short novella I Am Miami save this book from a possible 1-star death, for they do indeed offer something different. Of course, Welsh still doesn’t sway completely away from drugs and violence – both featuring heavily in the former and slightly less but still omnipresent in the latter, but the introduction of aliens, familial relationships and even, to a degree, happy endings is a pleasant surprise that induces forgiving feelings and re-ignites a little of the fire for Welsh that the other stories put out.
I do, of course, accept that these are, for the most part, previously published stories that have been brought together for the purpose of this book. In fact, I Am Miami, one of the two that I liked, is the only new story to be published here. However, the bringing them together at all still elicits the above criticisms, whether they are old-hat or not. Besides, the first published story in the book Kissing and Making Up was published after his highly acclaimed Trainspotting.
So, if you’ve read a lot of Irvine Welsh’s work, skip to the two tales mentioned above – they are worth a read, in their own small way. If you are new to Welsh, read them all – you may discover a new love (that given half the chance and a few more novels, will batter you to death with repetitiveness).
Note: The review was first published on Goodreads.