Loved "Trainspotting"? You'll Love "Porno"
Trainspotting is a story that, on initial reading, does not seem to require any sort of follow-up. Sure, the ending left things rather open-ended, but that struck me as a very deliberate choice. Mark Renton, the novel's flawed central protagonist, had set out determined to make a clean break both from his old life and his longtime friends. He had reached a point where he felt ready to kick his drug habit for good and start over far away from Scotland. It was a surprisingly uplifting ending for such a bleak story, and I would have been perfectly satisfied if things had ended there.
Relation to the Film Sequel, T2: Trainspotting
This is true both for the original novel and the film adaptation, so it is definitely interesting to note that both did eventually receive follow-ups—almost entirely independently of one another. Irvine Welsh's 2002 novel, Porno, and the 2017 film sequel T2: Trainspotting, share some similarities, of course, but they also diverge from each other in a number of ways.
Porno is a novel that closely follows the structure of Trainspotting, with each of the core cast given ample opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings through often heavily accented first-person narratives. However, while Mark Renton was the central protagonist of the previous book, Sick Boy seems to hold a more prominent role this time around.
In the years since the ill-fated drug deal in which Renton made off with all of the money, Sick Boy has also attempted to start a new life. Leaving behind his old attitude of drug-fuelled apathy, Sick Boy's current dream is to reinvent himself as a successful businessman. His latest venture, however, centers around the production of an amateur pornographic film.
Renton, for his part, made good use of the money that he stole from his former friends, having spent the last few years living happily in Amsterdam and running a successful nightclub.
Francis Begbie, who has spent the years since that ill-fated drug-deal languishing in prison, quickly comes to fill much the same role that he played in Trainspotting. He is, once again, a threatening and antagonist figure who looms over the rest of the cast. His anger at Renton's betrayal has only grown stronger over the years.
Spud, meanwhile, seems to have become increasingly isolated from his former friends. He is still struggling to finally kick his own long-time drug habit, though he has found some solace in his current plans to research and write a book about the history of Edinburgh.
The central cast is rounded up by the new addition of Nikki Fuller-Smith—a young university student who finds herself drawn into the seedy world of amateur pornography when she agrees to perform in Sick Boy's film.
Finding himself drawn back to Scotland, a chance encounter leads to a reunion of sorts between Renton and Sick Boy. Despite his obvious reluctance to be drawn back into his old life, Renton's lingering sense of guilt compels him to agree to invest in Sick Boy's film. It's just unfortunate that Renton's return to Scotland happens to coincide with Begbie's release from prison.
How It Compared to Trainspotting
Something that I should probably admit up front is that I just didn't enjoy Porno as much as I did Trainspotting. Things do get off to a pretty good start admittedly, and for a while, it seems as though Porno will be able to maintain that same balance of bleakness and black humor that made Trainspotting so fascinating.
Soon enough, however, the balance starts to shift. The simple fact of the matter is that while Trainspotting was often genuinely funny in spite of its bleak subject matter, Porno rarely is. Of course, it's entirely possible that this was a deliberate decision. Perhaps stripping away the humor was necessary in order to let us see these characters as they really are. Or, perhaps the events of the novel just did not allow for that same level of dark humor.
Regardless of the reasons behind it, the end result is that without some amount of humor to take the edge off, Porno essentially becomes a bleak and uncomfortable story of unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other. To an extent, these characters managed to come across as almost likable in Trainspotting, but here, it seems as though their various character flaws have only grown worse with time.
Despite all of this, though, Porno still manages to be oddly and uncomfortably fascinating. If you finished Trainspotting wanting to know more about these characters (and, really, you should read Trainspotting before you touch this one), then Porno will give you exactly what you want. Though you should also prepare yourself—if you struggled with the subject matter and some of the content of Trainspotting, then you are not likely to have an easier time here.