Irvine Welsh's 6 favorite books that explore human duality
The author of Trainspotting recommends works by Robert Louis Stevenson, Craig Davidson, and more
The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Dover, $2.50). Stevenson's story about a law-abiding citizen who turns into a monster at night was based on Deacon Brodie, a respected Edinburgh politician who after dark became a drunken, violent womanizer. The tale mirrors the novel's London, a city perpetually locked in a conflict between its rough and respectable images.
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (Oxford, $12). Hogg's 1824 novel about a man bewitched into committing murder starts as satire and evolves into a gothic horror story. All religious fundamentalists should read this hilarious tale of religious derangement. But they won't, as they tend to read only one book, and not very well.
The Man Who Walks by Alan Warner (Vintage, $13.50). Another very dark book, in some ways about the two faces of Scottish criminality: the Nephew, a basically decent if roguish figure, and his nemesis, the Uncle, altogether a more brutal and ruthless phenomenon.
The Fighter by Craig Davidson (Picador U.K., $23). Davidson, who's one of my favorites, writes beautifully about a damaged masculinity: brutal yet vulnerable. He creates two fascinating characters in Rob Tully, a poor but talented young boxer, and Paul Harris, a spoiled, entitled wimp. Both use boxing as a route to self-improvement and self-respect, with devastating consequences.
Pimp by Iceberg Slim (Cash Money, $16). One of the most influential cultural figures of the modern age, the late Iceberg Slim sought to maintain an incredible and taxing fragmented identity, between the pimp who exploited women and the black-consciousness revolutionary.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (Dover, $4). In Wilde's only novel, he followed Stevenson's model and used his main character, the narcissistic Dorian Gray, to depict the Victorian contrast between public respectability and private vice — a duality that still defines the British establishment today. Besides its Faustian and gothic horror motifs, it's also a homoerotic book about aesthetics, aging, and vanity.