Monday, February 10, 2014

Blogging from the Bookshop: On Olivia Laing's The Trip to Echo Spring

"I'd been banging my head against these questions for months, years. The three-way relationship between childhood experience, alcohol and writing. I'd read paper after paper about early life stresses and mediating factors, about the hand-me-down catastrophe of genetic disposition and the unearned luck of genetic resilience. I'd read about castration complexes and death drives and how Hemingway's mother was the dark queen of his internal world and in the midst of all these things I could hear the stripped-down elements of Berryman's poem: five words, clicking like beads on an abacus. 
Hunger, liquor, need, pieces, wrote."

- Olivia Laing

Although a tumbler of good scotch and a lit cigarette might seem like the height of romance,
this still life follows on the heels of some unimaginable disaster. 

The Trip to Echo Spring On Writers and Drinking, by Olivia Laing. Picador, 2013. 352 pages; 30$. In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing finally brings two of our favourite pastimes together. Focusing on the lives and work of famous male writers and notorious drunks F. Scott. Fizgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman and John Cheever, Laing explores the disquieting connection between manic creativity and the often debilitating influence of alcoholism in the life of each, embarking on a journey that takes her from Cheever's New York to Carver's Port Angeles. Having grown up in and struggled with an alcoholic family herself, Laing's interest here is not purely academic, and her journey forms "a topographical map of alcoholism, from the horrors of addiction to the miraculous possibilities of recovery." Mixing memoir, travelogue, and literary biography and coming with endorsements from the likes of Nick Cave and Hilary Mantel, The Trip to Echo Spring looks to be one of the most original non-fiction titles of the year. It's quickly making its way to the top of more than a couple reading lists around here.

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