I think it’s pretty safe to venture that anyone who opens an Irvine Welsh novel has a least the vaguest of notions of what to expect. In the decade since Trainspotting put him on the map (not to mention Babylon Heights, his recent play about the debauchery of Munchkins), drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll (in that order) have been expected from Scotland’s most famous contemporary author.
The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs is no exception; protagonist Danny Skinner is the kind of guy that you want to like: he generally means well, he works hard…enough, he wants to have strong moral values, but in the end he’s a hopeless alcoholic who has failed his girlfriend repeatedly and is just as susceptible to corruption as the people he’d like to think himself above.
[Skinner] wanes from being easy to identify with and even likeable to being a miserable bastard.
Throughout the story, Skinner is passing through work, his relationships with women, his battle with alcoholism, and his search for his father in his own half-assed way. Even when Skinner seems to take something to heart, mostly the search for the father he’s never known and whose identity his mother had kept hidden from him, Skinner mostly lacks direction and focus. As a character, he wanes from being easy to identify with and even likeable to being a miserable bastard.
The only thing that seems to move Danny Skinner is the illness of his nemesis, co-worker Brian Kibby. Kibby — recently faced with the death of his own father — is obviously tied to skinner in some other worldly way; it is made very clear that whatever Skinner does to his body will be reflected on the clean-living Kibby. Knowing the control he has over Kibby forces Skinner to re-evaluate his priorities and what is important to him; such moments when the Skinner character rallies hold your attention and, again, make you want to like Skinner.
Fans might argue that Welsh is getting a bit soft as he ages…
Welsh has shown that he still has a knack for creating his anti-heroes, a cast of characters so flawed, so awkward, and so depressing that one reads about them in the same way one can’t avert one’s eyes from a car crash. Fans might argue that Welsh is getting a bit soft as he ages: in some ways, the supernatural link between Skinner and Kibby feels like a cop-out, there are a few very improbable scenarios presented (again, this is in addition to supernatural links between men) and overall The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs seems to lack that certain grit that Welsh’s work generally embodies. Perhaps compared to his own work, Welsh seems to be lacking a bit of his former lustre. Compared to the average modern fiction writers, Irvine Welsh still writes with more wit and edge than most of his contemporaries.