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Reheated Cabbage

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture Posted by Joshua Chaplinsky

Reheated Cabbage

'Reheated Cabbage' by Irvine Welsh
Joshua Chaplinsky
A collection of vintage 90’s era stories and a brand new novella from everyone’s favorite literary Scotsman.

Everyone’s favorite literary Scotsman is back, with another helping of profane characters and ridiculous situations. Welsh’s second book of shorts in almost as many years, Reheated Cabbage treats us to a batch of vintage 90’s era stories long since out of print. No more scrounging around in used bookshops and garage sales for obscure anthologies containing a scant few pages to complete your collection, they are all here in one convenient package.

But wait, there’s more. Cabbage also features a new, never before published novella entitled, I Am Miami, an almost anagram transplanting Welsh’s larger than life Scots to the titular city like Tony Montana. He did it in 2009’s Crime, and I suspect he will continue to do so, as Welsh now Winters in the fair city. Anglophobic Nationalists need not worry, however.  This is not the start of a prolonged “Miami period” for the caustic author. He will soon be up to his old tricks, going back to the well yet again for the Trainspotting prequel, Skagboys, to be published in 2010. It goes to show, you can take the Scot out of Scotland, but you can’t take Scotland out of the Scot.

The stories represented here are an uneven mix of familiar faces and genre experimentation. The set starts off with the brief A Fault On The Line, wherein one character puts a football match before the life of his own wife. We then plunge headlong into Catholic Guilt, a bizarre ghost story about repressed sexuality and phantom ass-rape.  Then, it’s off to Christmas dinner with Begbie and the family, an uncomfortable get-together that culminates in unnecessary violence. We are then treated to a brief, palate-cleansing tale of domestic abuse before Welsh throws us the curveball that is The Roswell Incident.

The Roswell Incident plays like a highland dime store novel, featuring hard-talking visitors from space with Scottish accents who team up with some locals to form the hardest crew on the planet. This is probably the most humorous story in the set, but the weak genre aspects undermine what is otherwise a darkly satirical piece. I laughed out loud at the thought of aliens with Scottish accents, but was ultimately let down by the lack of effort put into the science fiction. The image of an alien creature DJ’ing to a crowd of pilgriming UFO enthusiasts in a giant cosmic rave is completely laughable, taking the already cartoonish rave culture to silly new heights.

But Welsh finishes strong, closing out the short story portion of the book with The State of the Party and Victor Spoils, two longer pieces that highlight Welsh at the top of his game. Here, he does what he does best, giving us intimate stories fused with sex and violence. There isn’t really anything new here for Welsh fans to discover, but there is a tightness to these two stories that has been somewhat lacking from Welsh’s recent long-players.

Then comes the main event- I Am Miami. Previously seen in Glue and Porno, Juice Terry and Carl Ewart resurface once again, this time in the sunny state of Florida. But this is not a masturbatory exercise in Welsh nostalgia. Welsh uses the familiar as a springboard to explore new territory. Miami has its trademark share of sex and drugs, but seems to be a more introspective piece, sharing a tone as well as a locale with Crime.

Despite the inclusion of Terry and Ewart, Miami belongs to Albert Black, the pair’s former schoolmaster and venerable administer of the lash. Albert is recently widowed and staying with his son’s family in Miami. As Albert comes to the realization he is out of touch with his family, he looks back on his life and uncompromising beliefs and begins to doubt himself. Enter Terry and Ewart, who take the old schoolmaster on a drug-fueled night of self-discovery.

Cabbage could be viewed as a stopgap release before his next big novel, a cash grab repackaging of older works for completists only, but this is not mere filler. In Miami, especially, Welsh once again demonstrates his mastery of the short form, crafting an irreverent, yet touching story of doubt and self-loathing. Reheated Cabbage reminds me why I fell in love with Welsh in the first place, highlighting his strengths (and weaknesses, but mostly strengths) as a writer. There is enough in here to warrant the attention of long time fans as well as some great introductory pieces for the Welsh-curious.  Chances are you missed them the first time around anyway.