Olivia Laing - The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink (4 stars)

Olivia Laing - The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink

(Canongate)

There’s a fear, given the title, that this seeks to romanticise alcoholism, positioning writers as tortured geniuses set apart from ‘ordinary’ people. Thankfully, Laing allays this fear.

The Trip to Echo Spring is a nuanced and heartbreaking book that focuses on six writers as Laing follows in their footsteps across the US: F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. Like her first book, To the River (a meditation on the river Ouse and Virginia Woolf), the psychogeographical approach places the sextet in a particular landscape, grounding them, highlighting their humanity and quashing any reading of romantic martyrdom.

It’s deliciously evocative, Laing’s melancholic and lyrical style conjuring the location, before effortlessly segueing into medical facts about alcoholism, the effects on the lives of each writer, and well-chosen passages from their work. This is a highly accomplished book, and highly recommended.

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