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Literature / Glue

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"Spice ay life!"

Glue is the fourth novel by Irvine Welsh, published in 2001, concerning friendship, drugs, sex and getting by in a working class neighbourhood of Edinburgh. It charts the development and camaraderie of four ragtag lads at the beginning of four consecutive decades each; 1970 through to the Turn of the Millennium.

They are Billy Birrell, honourable if easily-provoked street smart champion boxer; Terry "Juice" Lawson, easygoing sex-crazed layabout; Andrew "Gally" Galloway, Troubled, but Cute heroin addict who is estranged from his family; and Carl "N-Sign" Ewart, chemical DJ prodigy who supports Hearts, much to the dislike of his three Hibee mates. We follow them through childhood upheavals, small time theft, casual battles with Scotland's teams, drug experimentation, holidays to Europe, struggles with the local scheme gangsters and the all-important pursuit of women so as "to get their hole" and perhaps more besides. The long reaching consequences of our actions and the permanent, devastating effects they have are explored from the outset.


Switching between the four protagonist's viewpoints and those of supporting characters, the novel features many of the stylistic and tonal devices employed by Welsh in Trainspotting. The accents are thick, the tone is claret black and the cynicism can be infectious. But counterpointing the despair are frequent moments of levity and optimism. Catharsis and redemption is the concluding theme. Carl's father provides ten fundamental guidelines for surviving in the scheme, which prove to be the novel's Arc Words.

Glue features the Trainspotting crew rather more frequently than some of the other works in Welsh's Shared Universe, for example a comedic meeting with Spud during a house break-in. In turn, the former's sequel Porno features Terry in a prominent role, along with Billy's brother Rab. Several other characters make cameo appearances. If the Skagboys can be considered Welsh's A team, the Glue gang are the B team; on the periphery of the former and with mutual friends. The Glue lads received a short story in the Reheated Cabbage anthology several years later. Terry is also the protagonist of Welsh's latest novel A Decent Ride, which also features several characters from Trainspotting, Glue and Filth, such as Sick Boy, Billy Birrell and Clifford Blades. Later, in The Blade Artist and Dead Men's Trouers, Terry makes several appearances in his capacity as a cab driver and pal of Sick Boy's, and Carl is now a washed-up DJ under the management of Renton.


Glue contains examples of:

  • Basement-Dweller: In 2000, Terry's back living with his mother, lying in bed most of the day, drinking beer and watching TV.
  • Big Bad: Alex "Dozo" Doyle and his limited, schemie aspirations of a criminal empire.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Charlene calls out her father on his pedophilia, causing one of his friends to hit him.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Gally;
    • Brings a knife to the match incase he needs it then Polmont borrows it to stab somebody and Gally gets blamed because his fingerprints are on it.
    • He gets Gail pregnant when he loses his virginity.
  • Character Development: Terry undergoes some in A Decent Ride, though it's unclear if any of its stuck by the end of the novel.
  • Dirty Coward: "Polmont" McMurray is clearly kissing up to Dozo and the big boys for protection in a harsh, bleak scheme. He won't try on anyone harder than him without backup. He also barges his way in on Gail, taking Gally's daughter for himself in the process.
    • To a lesser extent, Dozo clearly relishes in having Gentleman as his bodyguard. By no means is he afraid to get his hands dirty, however.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • Charlene's father beat her and her mother.
    • Gally, sort of. Hitting his daughter was accidental and your mileage may vary on whether Gail deserved to be hit.
  • The Dragon: Martin Gentleman, a hulking monstrosity of a man who serves as Dozo's right hand.
  • Driven to Suicide: Gally.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Gent won't let Polmont dare to attack an old, frail watchman during the copper bale heist.
  • Faking the Dead: In her note explaining why she left, Terry's mum tells him to tell the council that she killed herself.
  • Football Hooligans: The boys meet up with Dozo's gang, the Begbie brothers and Tommy from Trainspotting and infiltrate the Rangers ranks as casuals. What follows is a truly breathtaking battle with dozens of Hun supporters and a lucky escape from retribution. However, Franco, Gentleman and Terry are lifted by the police, which only serves to give them enhanced "hard bastard" street cred.
    • Subsequent encounters between Hibs and Aberdeen/Dundee in '90 and 2000, respectively, form the mayhem laden backdrop of more immediate drama for the lads.
  • Honor Before Reason: Gally goes to jail for stabbing a man rather than grass on Polmont who actually did it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Deep down, "Juice" Terry is this - at least to his friends.
    • Sadist Teacher, Mr Black shows up at Gally's funeral years after they left school.
  • Kavorka Man: Terry can easily pull women even as he gets older and fatter.
  • Missing Mom: Terry's mother dies a runner because she's sick of his Basement-Dweller ways.
  • Pervert Dad: Charlene's father used to finger her when she was a kid.
  • Shot Gun Wedding: Gally's marriage to Gail is referred to as this.
  • Uranus Is Showing: When Terry reads Spud a made up horoscope, he starts with "As Uranus is active...".
  • Useless Bystander Parent: Charlene hates her mother for doing nothing to stop her father's sexual abuse.
  • Violent Edinburgher
    • Its worth noting what everyone does in the brawl against Rangers as an indication of their characters:
      • Renton and Spud chicken out and head to the safety of the Hibs end.
      • Gent hammers various fans so fast and viciously they have no chance to react. He also attempts Grievous Bottley Harm but the glass doesn't break.
      • Terry rushes in with snide punches, for him its all just for the rush and to laugh about afterwards.
      • Billy smacks as many different Huns as he can and then boxes with a guy in his forties. Billy is fifteen years old.
      • Dozo decks a guy with a kick and bull charges a large group.
      • Franco cracks a Hun with a surprise elbow to the face, hinting at his future sneak attacks in which he will utilize a barbaric arsenal of Improvised Weapon tools.
      • Gally just rides the surges of the crowd as best he can, taking his shots where available.
      • Carl holds back (perhaps in part because he's a Hearts supporter and is just with the Hibs casuals for the rush) until he gets spat in the face, at which point he goes absolutely mental on his assailant.
      • Polmont takes the cowardly route, avoiding all of the violence.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Gally goes to hit Gail back during an argument but accidentally hits his young daughter and goes back to jail.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Number one in the rules their fathers set them is to never got a lassie.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The epilogue "Reprise 2002: The Golden Era" causes a bit of a Continuity Snarl. Skagboys takes place from 1984-5, and one can more or less infer that Trainspotting runs from '87-89 (Renton is 25 early in Trainspotting, 3 years older thank he was in Skagboys). As Porno is set a decade later, one can presume it's something like 1999-2000, which makes sense with the presence of DVD players, period mobile phones and Toy Story (possibly the sequel?) playing at cinemas. Indeed, Dead Men's Trousers explicitly confirms that Porno happened in 1998. But Glue's epilogue is set in 2002, and seems to set up the Amsterdam stag do for Rab in Porno. Either you take it that Welsh didn't work it out and misnumbered the year or... you have to stretch it to the possibility that Rab left his fiance, found a new one and also wanted a four day stag do in 2002 in the 'Dam after Porno. This also draws into question the dating of the preceding section set "roughly" in the year 2000.
    • You also have to fudge the section nominally set "around 1980" as actually being specifically '79, because while Thatcher has recently come to power, the Trainspotting and Glue characters are about 15-17, but they need to reach 21-22ish by 1984 in Skagboys. Justified as the hazy, sometimes drug and booze-distorted teenage memories of these characters, so the vagaries of being set at the turn of the decade works.

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