Hell’s Kitchen


For Irvine Welsh, writing a book about restaurants means penning the following sort of lines: “Ah pulls up this cook and goes: ‘What’s that then?’ The boy says: ‘Aw, it’s bean soup.’ Ah sais tae him: ‘Ah ken it’s been soup, ya cunt, but what the fuck is it now?'” The author behind the scrupulously pottymouthed Trainspotting gives his readers more breathers in new novel The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, but we still face some ambitiously bent phonemes.

Many of the phlegmier phrases come from Danny Skinner, a young cad and devoted swigger of lagers who’s charming his way through a gig inspecting kitchens for the Edinburgh City Council. A more earnest brogue issues from his workplace nemesis, Brian Kibby, who forgoes pints for group walks in the hills: “Brian loved his weekends with that wholesome, hearty bunch, rejoicing under their collective title, the Hyp Hykers.”

It’s nerd alert for the suave Skinner, but the venom in his own distaste surprises him, and soon poses a strange dilemma. The lad’s normally dutiful hangovers go AWOL while Kibby gets hit with a rotting liver, and it becomes clear that Skinner and the teetotaler have traded symptoms. That’s an oddly fanciful hex for Welsh’s sour modern realism, and the novel doesn’t skirt the unlikely jam of fairy tale magic and Leith Walk argot. But to his—and the book’s—credit, Danny doesn’t do too much dithering on the postmodern politics of the identity swap, even though he’s locked in a search for his own absent dad. Able to pound “voddy” and give his rival the headache, Skinner knows he’s caught up in a morality tale, and it may say something good about him that he determines to play hero.