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The Trip to Echo Spring

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  2,343 ratings  ·  385 reviews
Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hem ...more
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published August 1st 2013 by Canongate Books (first published July 11th 2013)
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This book combines two of my favorite topics -- alcoholism and writers. And yet, I was disappointed.

Olivia Laing picked six writers who struggled with alcohol addiction: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, John Berryman, and Raymond Carver. Laing traveled around the United States to visit their old haunts, analyzed their writings about drinking, and mixed it all up with some scientific research into alcoholism.

"I wanted to know what made a person drink and w
Washington Post
Jan 14, 2014 rated it did not like it
“The Trip to Echo Spring” uncovers very little new about authors we know too much about. Instead of Hemingway or Fitzgerald, she might have inspected the lives of Kingsley Amis or Dorothy Parker. This book is riddled with the first-person singular, more often than not in ways totally irrelevant to the business at hand. Thus: “Months ago, back in England, when I was just beginning to think down into the subject of alcohol, I became certain that whatever journey I was making would begin in a hotel ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
Jul 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
well, just thinking about alcoholism fills me with anxiety, but this is a wonderful book and just my kind of thing. while it is in the main about why writers drink, it is also a little bit of a travel book and a memoir and is just lovely and bookish and tender and slightly sad.

it focuses on the lives of berryman, fitzgerald, hemingway, tenessee williams, raymond carver and john cheever (and if you are concerned that Laing is ignoring women writers/drinkers, she addresses that quite early on in t
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literature
That there is something fascinating to many about the connexion between alcohol and writing is evidenced by the bibliography of the book under review, which contains a healthy selection of articles and books discussing the issue from all sorts of angles. One of the books in the bibliography, The Thirsty Muse : alcohol and the American writer, is a book I've read several times: I was hoping that The trip to Echo Spring would be another enjoyable essay into this murky subject, but alas I closed th ...more
Feb 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book was disappointing. I heard the author being interviewed on the radio, and she intrigued me. However, I found the book to be just plain tedious. I don't need to read excerpts from the DSM or have explained to me how alcohol works. I wanted to read more about these gifted men and less about the author wandering around Key West or New Orleans. The book bored me, and I found myself skimming great swatches of chapters. Can't recommend this book if you are looking for details of the writers.
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing set out to debunk the myth of “alcohol + creativity = success”. By researching the addictions of six famous authors, the author shows not only how alcohol left a mark on their work, but also on their health.

Laing’s engaging prose easily takes us along her journey through America while she studies the works of Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, John Ber
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a profoundly moving book about six writers: Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Cheever. All six men struggled with alcohol abuse for most of their lives, with it ultimately in one form or another, killing each of them.
Part travelogue (the author who is English travels across America in search of the spaces these writers inhabited) and part biography,this book provides brief sketches of their lives, their disintegration, an
A confession: I wasn't interested in the work of all but one of the writers profiled (Tennessee Williams). However, I got the book from the library primarily for the travel narrative aspect, where I felt Laing excelled. The writers' biographies interested me (for the most part), as did the author's own story, which I didn't find intrusive at all. I did tend to zone out when she examined their actual work in any detail, but as I said, I knew that might happen at the outset.

This book is recommend
Gail Slater
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Trip to Echo Spring is a combination biography, travelogue, and memoir by an author who Amtraked her way around the US to catch the elan and times of six alcoholic writers. Though often drunk, drugged, disorderly, or locked up, they produced some of our best literature in the 20th C; they were always sick and suffering. I ’ve been humbled to read how they made sense of their mangled lives in their writings, and for a few, in their recoveries. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway drank and w ...more
Sean Barrs
Goodreads winner!

This book provides insight into the drinking habits of six authors and the consequential alcoholism. It is evident that a great deal of research has gone into this as it shines through their experiences. The author has written it, for the most part, in an engaging and informative way. I enjoyed reading some parts of it.

My major criticism is that the author has filled the pages with her own experiences with alcoholism along with her childhood and how the two relate. I don’t see
Nickolas Butler
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Olivia Laing's writing is beautiful and evocative and her exploration of alcoholism and American writing is noteworthy because of her deep sense of empathy for the authors she focuses on. It is much easier to criticize or lampoon Hemingway or Carver than it is to delve deeply into their biographies in search of exactly *WHY* they are so very flawed, and talented. Her writing about Key West, in particular, was lush, and after suffering through a historically cold Wisconsin winter, a welcome porta ...more
3.5 Stars

There is something rather incredible about the way Olivia Laing writes, including what she chooses to write about, and how. This, rather than my own non-interest in alcohol and white male literary figures (or my largely latent interest in writing) is what made me pick up this book.

In The Trip To Echo Spring Laing pursues the connection between the lives and works of six extraordinary American men — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, John Berryman, John Chee
Anna Baillie-Karas
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating account of six writers & their battles with alcoholism, and part travel memoir as Olivia Laing visits their home towns in America. I learnt much about these writers - all fascinating characters - & the destructive side of their addictions. Interesting & sad to ponder why men of such talent kept ruining it - & what more they could have achieved. Laing is compassionate & her writing is exquisite. A great read. ...more
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
A minority report about an infuriating read.

The Trip to Echo Springs, is part biography, part travel writing, part psychology, part literary criticism, and only partially satisfying in whole or in part.

If you've paid attention to writers, you've been through some amount of discussion about writers and drinking, and writers and suicide, and drunk writers who have committed suicide, so this book is nothing new in terms of subject matter. There's also not much new about alcohol theory or medicine.
Aug 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Great for information about alcoholism and anecdotes about some alcoholic writers (still asking myself, though, why no female writers were discussed). Not sure she satisfactorily answers the question why writers drink. She suggests that some of these writers' best work could not have been written without the help of huge doses of alcohol, which I find very hard to believe. I'm not sure that anything of lasting merit or artistic value could be produced in a state of alcoholic oblivion. She also s ...more
M.R. Dowsing
Aug 25, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a sort of combination of travel writing, lit crit, biography and autobiography as Laing travels around America visiting places connected with Raymond Carver, John Cheever, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennesse Williams and John Berryman, all of whom were alcoholics. The subtitle is unfortunate I think because it doesn't explain why writers drink or even give any evidence that writers drink more than anyone else. Both the journey and the book feel self-indulgent, but it's well-wr ...more
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-reads
A British woman-journalist traveling around the U.S. thinking about alcoholism - though not very deeply - and trotting out the biographies of very well-known American writers - while filling the pages with her own self-indulgent descriptive writing and a superficial survey of the meaning of alcoholism (she seems to think the Twelve Steps of AA is the key to understanding everything and we get the full list at least twice and the individual steps countless times). The framework of the roadtrip to ...more
Jessica Anne
I'm going to write a shitty review along the lines of why this book is shitty (aka, I'm going to make it personal when I should be objective).

I like Olivia Laing. I like why she chose all male white American alcoholic authors ("because I liked them"), and I like how she writes about landing on airport runways with slowly pulsating lights in the night. Her sentences often take off in a very beautiful way.


I wanted to read about writers and alcoholism, not about her planes and trains across Ame
Maria Menozzi
Apr 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read a NYT review of this book and thought, why would anyone want to read about alcoholic writers? Then I saw it in the library and picked it up (I'm a sucker for a good NYT review). And I'm glad I did. Without being overly sentimental, psychoanalytical, autobiographical, biographical or just pain mawkishly admiring, this tome manages to meld story with the inquisitive through-line as searching not answering, how these tortured writers managed to create the writing they did while living suicid ...more
Abby Smith
Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"The Trip to Echo Spring" is a thoroughly researched and empathetic exploration of six American writers and their relationships to alcoholism. Through their stories, and Laing's own, we come to appreciate the complex motivations behind both writing and drinking. Laing's ambitious approach combined with her mastery of style and imagery make "Echo Spring" an equally enthralling and heart-wrenching read.
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I quite enjoyed the portions of the books that described the interactions of the authors, especially the relationship between Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The author's interjections of her own story were not as interesting, nor was the majority of her trip across the country. Her trip could have really added to the book, but most of it was a "drive by" on a train. I think that was a missed opportunity to visit some of the places relevant to the authors that she chose to profile.
Liina Bachmann
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
The Trip to Echo Spring is a memoir-travelogue-literary criticism sort of fusion that focuses on six famous writers who had, mildly put, problems with alcohol. Despite being non-fiction it has the merit of just plain good writing. Olivia Laing finds just the right balance when to switch from bits of the authors lives to her own road- trip to America and when to add in a quote or some scientific facts about how alcohol works.
When taken apart all the bits separately are nothing revolutionary. If
Dec 13, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I really struggled with this book. Too much biographical information, too little discussion of why it's important and the context into which it fits re: writing and alcoholism.
Anna Maria Ballester Bohn
I put this book on my wish-list as soon as I saw it: suffering writers drinking themselves to death, what's not to like? Then I read a couple of middling reviews, downloaded the first chapter for my Kindle and somehow wasn't drawn in, so I didn't purchase it. Now I saw it in a Spanish edition and snorted it up in a couple of days. It must be the first time a book actually appeals more to me in translation... Anyway, it *is* a beautiful and poetic book, there's artistic suffering aplenty, and it' ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Part memoir, part biography, part travel narrative, Laing takes the reader into the lives of some of America's greatest male authors (Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Carver, Scott Fitzgerald and John Barryman) - there is good reason why the ladies are excluded, although you catch glimpses. One sees both how inspiring and yet ultimately destructive alcoholism is - not only for the alcoholic but for all those who love him or admire him. Could they have written the same works of beauty ...more
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
If you're looking for a an answer to the question as to why great writers drink you won't get it from this book--And that is one of the book's strengths. But if you're interested in how alcohol figured into the personal and literary lives of these six great authors (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Berryman, Cheever, Carver, and Tennessee Williams) then you will not be disappointed. The book provides many potential explanations of why these authors may have succumb to excessive drinking and incontrovertib ...more
Christian Bauman
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was pretty great. Can't make up mind whether it would have been awesome or a mistake to read it back to back with Rosie Schaap's Drinking With Men…but I didn't so never mind anyway. As you might expect this is a very sad book, made sadder by the memoir threaded throughout. It's also made more delightful by that. As well as just the personal observations along the way, the detailing of the geography and weather as the author moves from place to place, from one literary scene of the crime to ...more
Joan Colby
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
While this is a book about alcoholism and writers, it is also a book of beautiful observations by a talented writer. Much of the enjoyment is derived from the internal conversation one imagines having as Laing expresses her views and offhand comments, as she travels across America visiting the sites commonly linked to her subjects: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Berryman, Faulkner, Williams, Cheever and Carver. I loved this book which while reflecting on drink and the various informed studies of how alc ...more
Robert Miller
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I found this book quite fascinating. While I concede I have never completely read any of the work of the authors depicted in her story (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Williams, Berryman, Cheever and Carver), her select descriptive pieces of their writings make them seem appealing. What caused me to like the book is the author's compassion for these writers and her excellent description of her journey to get inside their heads. The book made me feel good because I get the strong feeling the author felt g ...more
Robert Vaughan
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The way this book moves between memoir, biography, travelogue is fascinating and seamless. Spellbinding. And of course, those six authors who have meant so much to the modern writer or reader. And alcohol as binding substance. My visiting friend and writer, Meg Tuite, turned me on to this book. I devoured it in less than three days. Now I want to read Laing's first book, and have already ordered her next. Do yourself a favor. Pick any of her works, and you will be so happy you did. Then slip int ...more
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Olivia Laing is a writer and critic. Her first book, To the River (2011) is the story of a midsummer journey down the river Virginia Woolf drowned in. It was a book of the year in the Evening Standard, Independent and Financial Times and was shortlisted for the 2012 Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year.

Her second, The Trip to Echo Spring (2013), explores the liquid links between w

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