a Filthy Detective and a Parasitic Narrator: Irvine Welsh’s Filth

I first read Irvine Welsh‘s Filth about five years ago and ignored all else but this book. I couldn’t put it down; not sure why; the title says it all – it’s filth. The main character, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson is an asshole; he’s a drug-using sadistic sociopath ‘enforcing’ the law and up for promotion. He takes pleasure in watching other people suffer; he sets people up to destroy their lives. His wife has taken their child and left him. He sleeps with his colleagues’ and friends’ wives and pretends to love them as he is shoving them out the door. He is racist and homophobic and the lead investigator in the homicide of a black journalist. This book should suck, it should make you throw it against the wall and maybe stomp on it. 393 pages with such a vile narrator? And yet, Irvine Welsh pulls it off. He creates this unreliable narrator who is so ridiculously obscene that it’s humorous. Did I mention that Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson also suffers from eczema in his ass and a narrating tapeworm?

Irvine Welsh writes in a Scottish dialect, and it takes a while to work out the slang, but eventually you get the hang of it and it’s like reading poetry…poetry with dirty words.

“Every fucker kens that I have my three weeks’ summer in Thailand and my winter’s wek in the Dam. Tradition. Custom and fuckin practice. Nae pen-pushing cunts are stopping that. No Siree, I’ll be fuckin well shaggin for Scotland come the tenth of this month.” (Welsh, Filth, 17)

“The old boy’s looking bitter; lost a bit of pep that yin! could dae wi some fuckin charlie in him! Chop yirsell oot a line ay post ya muppet-faced auld cunt!” (Welsh, Filth, 303)

He’s a paranoid delusional freak who uses his job to take advantage of and bully people. He goes on vacation to Amsterdam and spends his money on prostitutes. After that, he refers to sums of money in relation to what sort of sexual acts can be bought at that amount. And yet, there are moments when you catch a glimpse of his awareness. His realization that his daughter is better off without him. There is acknowledgement, however brief, that he is sick of ruining his friends’ lives. And yet, he continues. And as his life downward spirals, you follow. The more filth he eats, the bigger the tapeworm grows. As the parasite grows and develops, so does its narration. It gives us an interior understanding that Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson would never reveal. We learn what his childhood was like, who was his first love, and perhaps why he became who he is.

And yet, as you fear that you’re going sympathize with this monster, he goes and does one last filthy act.

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