The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs
Written by: Irvine Welsh
Review by: Gretchen Kalwinski
In Bedroom Secrets, Danny Skinner is a rakishly handsome, carousing restaurant inspector living in Edinburgh, plugging away just fine until Brian Kibby arrives as his co-worker. Kibby is seemingly unthreatening--quiet with "cowlike" eyes and a bit of a mama's boy, but generally inoffensive. However, Skinner immediately hates Kibby with an intensity that even he doesn't understand. Via his contempt and competitiveness, some of his long-languishing problems, long-clouded by booze begin to rise to the surface and throw his whole life into upheaval and disarray. He begins to pester his formerly punk-rock mother about his father's identity, (which she'll only jokingly give as Joe Strummer of The Clash), and throws away whatever was left of his relationship with Kay, a beautiful dancer who's been finding his drinking bouts increasingly tiresome.
Skinner eventually puts a curse on Kibby that results in the Star Trek and model train-obsessed boy beginning to suffer the damage of Skinner's abusive lifestyle. This sets in motion Kibby's declining health and Skinner's gleeful indulgences in even more booze, drugs, fighting, and sexcapades. Simultaneously, Skinner's search for his father's identity takes him to San Francisco and back via information he learns in a book penned by an obnoxious TV chef. Once he returns home, Kibby starts approaching death and begins to learn the ins-and-outs of the curse and how he might be able to reverse it.
This is Welsh's eighth novel centering around gritty, urban environments and one common critique of his work is that he's never departed from stock characters and themes from Trainspotting. It's true that the ho-hum-by-now grit is Welsh's schtick, but he's also got substance in spades. For all of his stock use of transgressive
content -- booze, drugs, orgies, sickness (and gratingly flagrant use of the c-word, by the way) -- Welsh knows how to tell a story in the old-fashioned sense of the word, a narrative that subtly builds tension in increasingly complex characters, delivers unexpected plot twists and resolutions, and conjures a reader's genuine investment in outcomes. Few writers handle the-beauty-of-ugliness themes as well as Welsh and the warm humanity of his deft language coupled with his insights into ego and the dark side of human nature makes Bedroom Secrets a compelling read.