Stress. I wake up mumbling and hyperventilating. It is a quiet morning however, no sign of trouble, no tear gas in the wind, no sirens or shouting from the main road. Extricated a fat pigeon from under a bed in the study and coaxed it out through an open window. My small dog known as the Chub chased the poor bird into the study from the kitchen. She is an eager hunter who never catches anything.
Absorbed in reading the Scottish writer AL Kennedy’s Paradise, a novel from 2004 with a raucous unrepentant female alcoholic (the equivalent of Malcolm Lowry, Hunter S Thompson or James Ellroy) as the main character. She’s funny, smart, ironic and knows all there is to know about black-outs. Which is nothing. Brilliant, corruscating, staggeringly painful to read with its liquid trail of hilariously bad sex, wounded family, baffled strangers and passing casualties. It is clear that Kennedy herself is not alcoholic (she’s a teetotaller who has never had a drink problem) but able to get under the skin of an obsessive drinker, what it feels like, how alcoholics natter to themselves, justify or attempt to reason with themselves (or can’t be bothered) and inevitably how they spiral out of control. That alcoholic interior monologue is both gripping and infuriating because Hannah, the drunken heroine, never learns anything from the catastrophes, pointless dramas, family heartbreak and amour fou with an alcoholic dentist. She just keeps on drinking herself into oblivion and dangerous fantasies, in search of paradise perhaps, but never getting there. It is a mix of entertainment and emotional torture, as intimate as any memoir, but with no recovery, no redemption, no way out of the dead end. She doesn’t want to stop drinking, nothing else makes sense, that is what she does and will always do. A few critics reviewing the book said they had vicarious hangovers afterwards. That made me laugh — but the self-lacerating abyss of Hannah’s mind is chilling stuff.
“Drink has trotted in and softened worries, charmed away internal repetitions of unpleasant facts and lifted my attitude those few vital degrees which prevent everybody from dragging their past behind them like a corpse.”
If you want to spend some time inside the head of a witty gifted woman drinking herself to death, this is the book to read. A reminder of inexorable destinies.
The pigeon sunning itself on the branch of a Brazilian tipuana. Free and seemingly unshaken. No doubt it will fly back into the kitchen again in search of crumbs, doing what it knows best.