I didn’t fall in love with Claire Kilroy’s latest novel, The Devil I Know, but for all that I found it less convincing than her Tenderwire of a few years ago, there are still moments that made it a much more rewarding read than much contemporary Irish fiction.
And this was one of them: the relationship between an alcoholic and his pint of stout, distilled (if that isn’t an oxymoron) into a few short lines:
We waited for the tumult within the glasses to settle, the chaos that miraculously resolves itself into a well of black topped by a head of cream – a trick, a cruel trick – it never resolves, but lapses back into chaos the second you swallow it. A chaos so calamitous that you don’t know where to turn to escape it, but by then it is too late. The chaos is inside you. This is the nature of a pint.
Drink and literature are great bedfellows. I’ve yet, somewhat shamefully, to invest myself into anything written by Brendan Behan, but his contemporary JP Donleavy’s The Ginger Man was a fantastic Dublin drink-and-books caper and I’m sure I read something by Kavanagh that was soaked in alcohol. Hemingway, Fitzgerald and many, many more discovered something equally devastating and inspirational in the drink.
The relationship between literature and alcohol was also referenced on BBC Radio 4’s arts show The Front Row (the name of which always puts me in mind of rugby rather than art) this week in an interview with American poet Sharon Olds, whose latest collection is named after her favourite wine.
Last year, in the duration of a literature and creative writing course I embroiled myself in, the after-class drinks were almost inseparable from anything that went before.
Which prompts the question: is there any such thing as great teetotal literature?