Over the past few years, Edinburgh has found itself at the centre of a cultural explosion. Films like Sunshine on Leith and the long-anticipated T2 Trainspotting have showcased the Scottish capital, displaying all that Edinburgh has to offer: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Last year, somewhat overshadowed by the euphoria that T2’s imminent arrival induced, there was one new release that perfectly depicts the multifaceted nature of Edinburgh: Roland Tye’s debut novel, Weekender.
Spanning a typical weekend, the novel catapults the reader into the lives of various Edinburgh residents; from seedy and depraved drug-addicts to the comfortable middle-class family who come together for a Sunday roast each week. Tye takes the idea of six degrees of separation to the extreme, as each chapter overlaps to reveal a connection between the previous narrator and the new figure at the fore. It comes to a close with a series of revelations that are reeled off so quickly that they are simply mind-boggling (and make you want to devour the book all over again). As a whole, Weekender is a fast-paced, sharp-witted first novel, one that reads as easily as the weekend flies by.
That is not to say that Weekender has been an easy journey for Roland Tye, a University of Edinburgh alumni and current staff member. 16 years in the making, the novel was first conceived when Tye was a Politics student here at the University. In speaking to him about his recent success, it also becomes evident that a lot has changed since he first had the idea, in both Edinburgh and his personal life.
The “dark side of life, of Edinburgh” was originally the main focus of the novel. Studying a degree that, “focused on worst in humanity – war, genocide, famine, corruption”, twenty-one-year-old Tye was weighed down by the subject matter. That, combined with an undiagnosed mental illness, led to Tye finding solace in drugs as a way of coping.
Consequently, drugs and depression have their place in the novel, and it is here that, somewhat inevitably, many parallels can be drawn between Weekender and Trainspotting. Taylor’s story of excessive drug taking in a “dingy, raucous nightclub” (Cab Vol, anyone?) is more or less autobiographical, and Miss Richards’ chapter is far from the somewhat glamourized presentation of prostitution in T2.
Despite these similarities, however, Tye does not allow them to define his novel. One significant step away from Welsh’s influence is Tye’s decision to limit his use of Scots dialect. By selectively using it in chapters like ‘The Jambos’, a raucous chapter exploring the sectarianism still rife in Scottish football, he allows the vernacular to enrich his characters, rather than stunt the novel’s rapid pace.
The readability of Weekender, however quickly you are compelled to turn the page, is the novel’s greatest feat. It also means that the connections between the characters somehow do not feel forced (though Tye still manages to blindside you with some of the incredulous links between strangers revealed at the close). The novel emphasises how, despite being a capital city, Edinburgh has a unique sense of community that makes it difficult to go a day without seeing someone you know. The stories of family, friendship and love waiting to be discovered, give the novel a much more uplifting close.
Weekender is as much a story of redemption for Tye as it is for those in the novel who occasionally feel hard done-by. While the darker side of Edinburgh “still exists and always will”, there is also so much beauty to be found, within the city and the people who inhabit it.
Now preparing to travel to write his second novel, Roland Tye has proved that it is never too late to follow your dreams, and that there is always a silver lining to look out for. It does not even have to take 16 years: after all, “a lot can happen in a weekend”.
Weekender by Roland Tye (Comely Bank Publishing, 2016)
Photos courtesy of Roland Tye