Puck's Reviews > The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking

The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing
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bookshelves: 2019-read, 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 Berryman, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver.
Despite their differences, at their core all these men struggled with similar problems: an alcoholic father, a restricting mother, mental health issues, repressed homosexual feelings…Neither did it help that in the 20th century alcohol addiction wasn’t taken seriously. Look at the Great Gatsby: no one wants the party to stop.

“Modern life is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief.”
- Ernest Hemingway


I’m not familiar with any of the studied authors – I’ve heard of their work, but that’s it – so I enjoyed learning about their lives and how the men inspired each other. However, instead of focusing on one author per chapter, Laing mixes up their stories, often confusing me about whom I was following.
I also would’ve preferred if Laing had cut down on her travel-descriptions. They added little to the narrative and to the underlying message of this book. Alcohol doesn’t help you a better author (shocker): it helps you to die quicker.

So although this book is a moodkiller – reading how lonely, nervous men ruin their health isn't fun - this 'mood-killing' is also this book’s strength. Alcohol is a toxic, a dangerous addiction, and to show its destructive effects still is important today.
Well done Laing, but less traveloque stories next time. 3 stars
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Reading Progress

March 5, 2019 – Started Reading
March 5, 2019 – Shelved
March 5, 2019 – Shelved as: nonfiction
March 5, 2019 – Shelved as: biography
March 5, 2019 – Shelved as: 2019-read
March 12, 2019 –
page 235
66.76% "Reading how these men fail and drown in depression isn't fun, and yet that is what makes this book powerful. There is no 'happy, alcoholic author': there are only sad, lonely men with a talent."
March 12, 2019 – Finished Reading

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