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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:

  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Dozo, Gentleman, and Polmont gleefully brutalize the guard dogs during the copper heist, and end the night by burning them alive. Billy resolves to keep his distance from them as a result.
    • If it weren't enough that Charlene's father frequently abused his wife and molested his daughter, he also nails Charlene's pet rabbit to a tree in a drunken rage.
  • 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.
    • Contracts HIV, despite claiming to have used heroin maybe two or three times.
  • Career Resurrection: Happens in universe to Kathryn Joyner. By the time she's introduced around 2000, her career has floundered, her live performances aren't up to scratch, and she has an eating disorder. Terry somehow manages to persuade her to go for a drink with him and she ends up going on a drink and drug fuelled bender with Terry, Rab, Johnny, Lisa, and Charlene, sleeps with Johnny, and ends up doing her final gig before deciding to retire, and actually finding some of her old form and singing what was her greatest hit that she refused to do for years, having written it with an ex who had cheated on her. In the epilogue, she's recorded the lyrics for Carl's latest hit.
  • Catchphrase: Terry's "spice ay life!" (Referring to sex, of course).
    • Billy has a few, most notably "brutal", "desperate", and "drastic". He gradually loses the former as he gets older.
  • Character Development: Terry undergoes some in A Decent Ride, though it's unclear if any of its stuck by the end of the novel.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Gally's crossbow is as literal an example as possible in a setting without firearms. It ends up being the weapon used to shoot out Polmont's throat, though it's Juice Terry who fired the bolt, not Gally.
  • Circumcision Angst: Gally teases Juice Terry over having a large foreskin, which the latter seems to find a touchy subject. Them being Scottish, Gally's actually the only one to have had a circumcision, and that for medical reasons. He inverts the trope in joking it might cause him trouble as they're in Germany at that time.
  • 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.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Lisa, Gally's young cousin, first appears very briefly in the 80s section. She returns to play a much more prominent role in the 2000s section, now a Hard-Drinking Party Girl and Terry's latest lover, but she's only confirmed as the same character near the end when she notes having a cousin who died after "falling" off a bridge.
  • 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.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: The positive potential of drugs such as ecstasy is a major component of the novel. Kathryn Joyner turns her life around following a bender with Terry and Co. involving ecstasy, weed, and cocaine (smoking a joint in particular allows her to overcome a debilitating eating disorder and enjoy a full meal for the first time in God knows how long); Rab gets over his recent devastating breakup and meets his possible soulmate and eventual wife thanks to the emotional intimacy ecstasy provides; and Carl's successful career is largely due to the prominence of the same. The dangers of unsafe consumption and overindulgence are also on display by necessity, however.
    • Heroin is an exception, of course: while largely peripheral to the story compared to some of Welsh's other novels, it is as nigh-inherently destructive to life and happiness as ever.
  • Honor Before Reason: Gally goes to jail for slashing a man rather than grass on Polmont who actually did it. Unfortunately this is a consequence of the boys' slavish adherence to the doctrine of Duncan Ewart's code of conduct (albeit, if he had grassed, it might have blown back on him from Polmont's associates).
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Billy's professional boxing career comes to an abrupt end during a fight he should have won easily. Officially, it's blamed on a thyroid problem that has his boxing licence revoked. In actuality, his opponent resembled Gally a little too much and Billy couldn't bring himself to beat down someone who reminded him that much of his recently deceased friend.
  • In-Universe Nickname: An essential part of life as a schemie is nicknames. Almost every character has at least one, and many have several. To name a few, "Polmont" is actually McMurray but is known exclusively as the former for a stint in the approved school (he becomes "The Dalek" following the fitting of an artificial voice box); Johnny Watson shifted from Johnny "Guitar" (for his musical skills) to "Catarrh" (for his nasal issues) for years without realizing; there's also Dozo Doyle's father "Duke". As for the main four:
    • Billy in particular collects a number over his life: "Business" Birrell becomes his Red Baron title as a boxer, alongside Secret Squirrel, Biro, Silly Girl, etc.
    • Carl enjoys "N-Sign" as his DJ title. He's also lumped with "The Milky Bar Kid" for his resemblance to the ad icon (which he shares with his father), and angsts lightly for a time that "Placenta" Ewart might stick after his story of a failed attempt at Twin Threesome Fantasy.
    • Terry is "Juice" Terry, for his first teenage job on the juice lorries as an "Aerated Waters Salesman" (for which he holds a lifelong pride bordering on obsession).
    • Andrew Galloway is simply "Gally" to his friends. "Wee man" is common, too, from his small size and youthful looks (he still has trouble buying alcohol at 25).
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Deep down, "Juice" Terry is this - at least to his friends. A notable example is how his actions, even if his initial intent was to get her into bed, end up helping Kathryn Joyner out of her slump.
    • 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 does a runner because she's sick of his Basement-Dweller ways.
    • She's come back at some point before A Decent Ride.
  • Motor Mouth: Terry takes pride in being this, finding it a useful tool for dominating conversation and landing women.
    He sounded like the rasping engine of an outboard motor, only much louder.
  • Nervous Tics: Andrew "Gally" Galloway plays with his earring whenever something bothersome is on his mind. The habit is implied to be so prevalent that, over a decade after receiving the piercing, his ear still hasn't fully healed.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Carl on behalf of Guy, whom a drunken Billy refers to as "some guy".
    Ah wonder how many times the poor cunt's heard that yin.
  • Pervert Dad: Charlene's father used to finger her when she was a kid.
  • Secret-Keeper: Carl is the only one who knows about Gally's HIV diagnosis for most of the book.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Gally's marriage to Gail is referred to as this.
  • The Talk: Carl's father, usually so cool and at ease in social situations, is flummoxed when he's ordered by his wife to give this to Carl, leaving Carl much chagrined and confused about how to lose his virginity.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Carl's notes his lifelong ambition is a threesome with the Brook Twins, two regulars at his club. He comes close but one proves too squeamish to follow through.
  • Uranus Is Showing: When Terry reads Spud's partner-in-crime 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.
  • Wham Line: Two of them. One of Gally's chapters in The '90s section of the book starts out with him having got the results of his HIV test. The other wham line occurs during one of Carl's Australia chapters, where he simply states that Gally died.
  • 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 than 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.