Lloyd from Leith has a transfiguring passion for the unhappily married Heather. Together they explore the true nature of house music and chemical romance. Will their ardour fizzle and die or will it ignite and blaze like a thousand suns? Ecstasy follows them and others through the backstreets of Edinburgh, stifling suburban sitting rooms and the bright lights of London. Exhilarating and dazzling, this is Welsh at his very best.
The ecstasy involved in rave-writer Welsh's three novellas at first may seem exclusively the chemical kind ("e," "ecky," "MDMA") downed at Dionysian dance parties by alienated post-Thatcher youth and nearly every character here. But Welsh's latest misfits are also looking (however incoherently) for a higher ecstasy too: in a half-articulated credo, one eckied-out character thinks: "you had to party harder than ever.... It was your duty to show that you were still alive. Political sloganeering and posturing meant nothing; you had to celebrate the joy of life." Meantime, though, they are hooked on other drugs, petty crime, pub brawls, casual/kinky sex and bodice-buster novels. "Lorraine Goes to Livingston: A Rave and Regency Romance," the weakest of the three novellas, mixes Will Self-style grotesque social satire with an increasingly sick parody of trashy paperbacks. Welsh's own version of true love goes even farther over the top in "Fortune's Always Hiding" as a sociopathic Cockney criminal falls for a woman deformed by a thalidomide-like drug and they take gruesome revenge on its corporate manufacturers. The last and best, "The Undefeated," presents modern love in Edinburgh as a "chemical romance" between the party-addict Lloyd, whose acidified life consists only of weekend house bashes, and straight-peg Heather, who trades her bougie existence for e. Ecstasy exports Welsh's pitch-perfect slang, black humor and surreal imagination in an exhilarating, mutable style like the written equivalent of techno music, cutting right through to his characters' lives.