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Alcohol and Fiction

I’ll be adding posts on the subject of alcohol and fiction. The novel I’ve just finished editing is soaked with alcohol!

There is the history of writers (and other creators) who’ve had big alcohol problems. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Rhys anybody? Here, I’d strongly recommend Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath which is a beautifully written part-memoir, part literary history of drink and writers.

Some of the writers in the above write of alcohol addiction. John Berryman’s Recovery for instance. I’ll select for future posts some of the best novels. But I begin with an extract from Jack London’s John Barleycorn. This brief snippet compresses a great deal of the spiritual despair that comes with the booze.

Of course, all this is soul-sickness, life-sickness. It is the
penalty the imaginative man must pay for his friendship with John
Barleycorn. The penalty paid by the stupid man is simpler,
easier. He drinks himself into sottish unconsciousness. He
sleeps a drugged sleep, and, if he dream, his dreams are dim and
inarticulate. But to the imaginative man, John Barleycorn sends
the pitiless, spectral syllogisms of the white logic. He looks
upon life and all its affairs with the jaundiced eye of a
pessimistic German philosopher. He sees through all illusions.
He transvalues all values. Good is bad, truth is a cheat, and
life is a joke. From his calm-mad heights, with the certitude of
a god, he beholds all life as evil. Wife, children, friends–in
the clear, white light of his logic they are exposed as frauds and
shams. He sees through them, and all that he sees is their
frailty, their meagreness, their sordidness, their pitifulness.
No longer do they fool him. They are miserable little egotisms,
like all the other little humans, fluttering their May-fly life-
dance of an hour. They are without freedom. They are puppets of
chance. So is he. He realises that. But there is one
difference. He sees; he knows. And he knows his one freedom: he
may anticipate the day of his death. All of which is not good for
a man who is made to live and love and be loved. Yet suicide,
quick or slow, a sudden spill or a gradual oozing away through the
years, is the price John Barleycorn exacts. No friend of his ever
escapes making the just, due payment.

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