Louise Welsh - The Cutting Room (2002)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
A host of successful new authors has sprung from Glasgow University’s highly productive creative writing course, with Louise Welsh at the front of the pack. The Cutting Room was Welsh’s 2002 debut novel and it is a book that has quite rightly managed that tricky balance of garnering critical acclaim and achieving commercial success into the bargain. A literary crime novel, The Cutting Room has been an incredible success, winning umpteen prizes and awards, being translated into numerous languages and spawning a theatre production.
Much of the book’s success is down to Welsh’s incredible narrating character, Rilke. A cadaverous, gloomy, gay auctioneer, he drifts through the pages in acerbic, knowing fashion, a complex and instantly intriguing figure. Rilke discovers some disturbing old photographs while clearing out the house of a recently deceased old man, and as he tries to find out more about them he is sucked down into a murky world of pornographers, rent boys, drug dealers, transvestites and more, as events escalate dangerously out of control.
Welsh’s handle on characterisation is brilliant, both with Rilke and the array of supporting deadbeats and no-hopers that populate the pages. But perhaps even more impressive is her depiction of Glasgow, as the city becomes a character in its own right; Gothic, dismal, decaying and frightening in equal measure. Using the crime novel format, Welsh does much more than tell a whodunnit story, employing the novel’s backdrop to examine society’s reaction to so-called sexual deviation, suggesting that what is and isn’t acceptable is never a black and white issue, but rather a spectrum of shades of grey. A compelling and consuming read from start to finish, The Cutting Room is nothing short of an extraordinary debut.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.