Alexander Trocchi - Young Adam (1954)
- Jay Richardson
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Virtually forgotten by his death in 1984, Alexander Trocchi's Young Adam was one of the great beneficiaries of Rebel Inc's assault on the Scottish literary canon during the 90s. But it took David Mackenzie's excellent film adaptation, with Ewan McGregor in the lead role, to deliver the long overdue readership and reassessment of this modern masterpiece. Trocchi was a brilliant English and philosophy graduate of Glasgow University, who legend maintains only missed out on a first class degree because he miscalculated his drug intake before the finals. His novel has an existential detachment that recalls Albert Camus; his is a distinctly European perspective that was embraced as part of a Paris literary scene in which he would publish works by Beckett, Ionesco and Sartre. Overshadowed by his reputation as exile, heroin addict and wife-pimp, it's easy to read much of Trocchi's own biography and outsider status into Joe, the novel's insistently subjective, amoral anti-hero.
Travelling on a canal barge between Glasgow and Edinburgh with the owner, his wife and child, they discover the floating corpse of a young woman. As his relationship to the deceased, Cathie, and his part in her death unfold, what startles is Joe's unfeeling detachment, pared back by Trocchi's sparse, gritty prose. Seldom does the shiftless protagonist approach being sympathetic, but unmoored from any recognisable social framework or authority, he possesses a grim charisma and sexual rapacity that dominates the story. Manifesting itself in a series of animalistic couplings with the barge owner's wife and her widowed sister, it reaches its height in the description of a custard assault on Cathie that retains a disturbing ambivalence.
Destined to be deemed a writer who largely wasted his talent, Trocchi was described by Irvine Welsh in double-edged terms as 'the Scottish George Best of the literary world'. Young Adam arguably remains Trocchi's only completely sustained great work.
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