It’s taken me a decade to get around to reading The Cutting Room but I certainly won’t wait as long to read Louise Welsh again.
Welsh’s debut, published in 2002, navigates a similar landscape to Ted Lewis’s famous novel Get Carter– the seedy and brutal underworld of our major towns and cities and the damage wreaked by pornography.
It’s a world for the most part hidden or unnoticed by the majority which should come as a relief having read Welsh’s novel.
Welsh is an entirely convincing guide and describes the underbelly with style and economy through the eyes of the Glasgow auctioneer Rilke.
Rilke is contacted to clear a large house after the elderly owner dies. At first he is drawn to a treasure trove of furniture, but he soon discovers a packet of disturbing ‘snuff’ photographs and decides to investigate.
Rilke has a weakness for romance and money. He’s no stranger to the darker side of Glasgow, but is soon drawn into a world of specialist pornography and an exclusive photography club.
Welsh is particularly good at drawing us, and Rilke, into this world of backstreet shops and massage parlours.
‘A long time ago someone had stretched nicotine-coloured cellophane across the glass to stop the records warping in the occasional sunlight. It hadn’t worked.’
She is also excellent on the hidden practices of the auction house and the characters trying to make a fast buck, from the locals with their illegal ‘ring’ to the Irish bhoys fresh off the ferry in a fug of smoke and Frederic the Carpet Man. Young Drummond is a brief but brilliantly described regular, ‘famous in charity shops from here to Govan. Who sells irony to thirty somethings.’
The book is a riveting read. Menace and evil are ever-present. There is hopelessness and desperation but it is always tempered by Welsh’s characters’ black humour and their ability to take their pleasures wherever they can.