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

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


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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1. pete mowat19 Jul 2013, 7:40pm Report

This subject has always intrigued me. Are writers and other artists more predisposed to becoming alcoholics or is there something in the nature of this creative work that later lures artists into this affliction?

This succinct enticing review has introduced me to a book that I might have otherwise overlooked and I will now seek it out on publication.

Many thanks

2. AddictionMyth20 Jul 2013, 9:55am Report

Writers drink for the same reason as everyone else: it provides a temporary escape from life's inconveniences. Why do they become alcoholic? The reason is that alcoholism is fake, but writers have particularly good imaginations. So even though it's not true, they make it so. Every small craving is magnified into a huge obsession. It makes for great fiction as well.

Same for actors. They are trained to believe things whether or not they are true. So they take on the addict persona full force. It can be deadly if taken too far -- Cory Montieth the latest example.

Alcoholism is not a deadly disease, despite millions of dollars of pseudo-scientific research. Alcoholism is a deadly myth.

For example, John Cheever: http://addictionmyth.com/lock-me-up/

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