4 books to comfort in your moment of shame, recommended to you by us at 4th Estate.
‘If I could turn back the clock
Turn it back to yesterday
There are things I wouldn’t do
And things I wouldn’t say’
Lee Hazlewood, The Night Before
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
No coming-of-age novel is complete without the first experience of the heady delights and crushing aftermath of intoxication, and David Copperfield more than fulfils this criteria. David’s first experience of drunkenness is poignantly, painfully familiar – from a sudden awareness that ‘I was addressing myself as ‘Copperfield’, and saying, ‘Why did you try to smoke? You might have known you couldn’t do it’ to the awful encounter with his beloved Agnes: ‘I felt ashamed, and with a short ‘Goori!’ (which I intended for ‘Good night!’) got up and went away.’ His hangover too is masterfully described – ‘all night – the bed a rocking sea that was never still!’, ‘my tongue the bottom of an empty kettle, furred with long service, and burning up over a slow fire’, the ‘horror of having committed a thousand offences I had forgotten’, and ‘the impossibility of going out, or even getting up!’ Enough to make one think hard about ever drinking again.
P. G. Wodehouse, Jeeves Takes Charge
We are told Jeeves’ hangover cure of choice before we are told his name. It is because Bertie Wooster is ‘feeling pretty rocky’, that Jeeves, his much-loved literary butler, is welcomed into employment. With a concoction of Worcester sauce, raw egg, and red pepper, Jeeves begins his long career improving Wooster’s day-to-day life. A short story that testifies to that particular impulsiveness that comes ‘with a morning head’, and to the extreme wonder and gratitude felt for anything or anyone that might appease it.
Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square
‘When you met in the morning all you talked about was last night – how “blind” you were, how “blind Mickey was, my God, you bet he had a hangover. “Taking a little stroll round Hangover Square” – that was Mickey’s crack.’
You can almost smell the stale alcohol that perfumes Hamilton’s great novel. Readers are invited into the seedy, sad, drink-sodden world of a gang of no-hopers and heavy drinkers centred on pre-war Earls Court, on the Black Hart public house, and on Netta – a failed actress with a heart as unforgiving and black as her chosen hang-out spot. Told from the perspective of George, who is smitten with Netta, Hangover Square shows the gripping, fatal consequences of one too many hangovers.
Sam Byers, Idiopathy
Sam Byers says that when writing Idiopathy, he was interested in the culture of talking about feelings and self-development, a hangover from the sixties. In his debut novel he writes about thirty-somethings who are sad, angry and sometimes literally hungover, from too much of the stuff taken to ease the pain of all their feelings. In the final explosive scene, as nerves and relationships are pushed to breaking point, the reader is left contemplating what will follow – acceptance, a chance for hope, and the inevitable hangover.
Words by Lettice Franklin
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