I enjoyed this book more than any of IW's for about ten years. Like most long novels it has a few dull moments, but overall it's a gripping read: I raced through it. There are two or three spots where IW seems to be straining for a big dramatic or comedic affect, but the power of the book really comes from the slow accretion of telling detail. (Is that what you call realism? I think so.)
A couple of those small details seemed not quite right for the 1980s, as I remember them, but what did seem 100% right was the overall feel of that sad decade. That strikes me as much more important, and I can't remember another novel that evokes working class Scottish life in the 1980s so accurately - well, one or two by James Kelman match it, but JK's are hard to pin down to specific decades, unlike this one.
IW seems to be trying to write a semi-documentary work, and I think he succeeds: it certainly took me back, whether I wanted to be taken back to those painful times or not. I don't think you have to have read Trainspotting to enjoy this: it makes sense in its own right.
Talking of other books, one I would like to read is IW's autobiography. It never occurred to me before, but the parts of this book that seem most personal and autobiographical - and I say SEEM, because I have no way of knowing if they really are - are the most powerful. The beautifully handled scenes in the Fife rehab house, for instance. As I came to the end of those temporarily optimistic pages, and the entirely believable tragedy of the conclusion started to seep in, then build and build, I found myself filled with renewed admiration for the tremendous storytelling skills of IW. And I also found myself, for the first time since Trainspotting, wondering how much of this was real. Because a lot of it felt real.
All the best bits felt real, and the few week spots were where IW strayed from reality. That's how it seemed to me, and if I'm right then IW's autobiography might be his real masterpiece.
If he ever writes such a thing.