Trainspotting takes the form of a collection of short stories, revolving around various residents of Leith, Edinburgh who either use heroin, are friends of the core group of heroin users, or engage in destructive activities that are implicitly portrayed as addictions that serve the same function as heroin. Rents, Sick Boy, Mother Superior, Swanney, Spuds, and Seeker are as unforgettable a clutch of junkies, rude boys, and psychos as readers will ever encounter. The young antiheroes are not looking for train numbers, but for the next shot of heroin.
The novel is set in the late 1980s and has been described by The Sunday Times as "the voice of punk, grown up, grown wiser and grown eloquent". The novel has since achieved a cult status. The joke of the title is that no trains have left the old Leith Central Station for decades and the cliche that working-class Edinburgh is invisible to New Town professionals.