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In Love with Hell: Drink in the Lives and Work of Eleven Writers

William Palmer

15 Reviews

Rated 0

Biography: literary

A work of non-fiction about eleven writers, including Dylan Thomas, Kingsley Amis, Patrick Hamilton, Jean Rhys and Elizabeth Bishop, and drink in their lives and work.

'Wise, witty and empathetic . . . outstanding'

'A fascinating treatment of the age-old problem of writers and drink which displays the same subtle qualities as William Palmer's own undervalued novels'

'A vastly absorbing and entertaining study of this ever-interesting subject'
ANDREW DAVIES, screenwriter and novelist

'In Love with Hell is a fascinating and beautifully written account of the lives of eleven British and American authors whose addiction to alcohol may have been a necessary adjunct to their writing but ruined their lives. Palmer's succinct biographies contain fine descriptions of the writers, their work and the times they lived in; and there are convincing insights into what led so many authors to take to drink.'

Why do some writers destroy themselves by drinking alcohol? Before our health-conscious age it would be true to say that many writers drank what we now regard as excessive amounts. Graham Greene, for instance, drank on a daily basis quantities of spirits and wine and beer most doctors would consider as being dangerous to his health. But he was rarely out of control and lived with his considerable wits intact to the age of eighty-six. W. H. Auden drank the most of a bottle of spirits a day, but also worked hard and steadily every day until his death. Even T. S. Eliot, for all his pontifical demeanour, was extremely fond of gin and was once observed completely drunk on a London Tube station by a startled friend. These were not writers who are generally regarded as alcoholics. 'Alcoholic' is, in any case, a slippery word, as exemplified by Dylan Thomas's definition of an alcoholic as 'someone you dislike who drinks as much as you.' The word is still controversial and often misunderstood and misapplied. What acclaimed novelist and poet William Palmer's book is interested in is the effect that heavy drinking had on writers, how they lived with it and were sometimes destroyed by it, and how they described the whole private and social world of the drinker in their work.

He looks at Patrick Hamilton ('the feverish magic that alcohol can work'); Jean Rhys ('As soon as I sober up I start again'); Charles Jackson ('Delirium is a disease of the night'); Malcolm Lowry ('I love hell. I can't wait to go back there'); Dylan Thomas ('A womb with a view'); John Cheever ('The singing of the bottles in the pantry'); Flann O'Brien ('A pint of plain is your only man'); Anthony Burgess ('Writing is an agony mitigated by drink'); Kingsley Amis ('Beer makes you drunk'); Richard Yates ('The road to Revolutionary Road'); and Elizabeth Bishop ('The writer's writer's writer').

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Praise for In Love with Hell: Drink in the Lives and Work of Eleven Writers

  • Praise for The India House:

  • [T]he mood of gentle regret and a sense of living in a time out of place resembles no writer so much as Chekhov. - Observer

  • The India House builds on its somewhat dusty foundations to altogether dazzling effect. - Spectator

  • Praise for Four Last Things:

  • The depth and eloquence of this fine collection . . . might surprise even the most ardent admirers of his novels. - Independent on Sunday

  • Praise for The Pardon of Saint Anne:

  • Palmer's beautifully crafted novel convincingly unfolds for us a story of inadvertent complicity in acts of unspeakable evil. - The Times

  • Praise for The Contract:

  • A beautifully written exploration of a once famous case that has uncomfortable relevance to our own times.

  • Praise for The Contract:

  • A flawless and intelligent study of sex, politics and the abuse of power. It is both subtle and shocking: that is a rare and potent combination.

  • Praise for The Pardon of Saint Anne:

  • [A] haunting work over which one wants simultaneously to hurry and to linger. - The Times

  • Praise for Leporello:

  • [A]n extraordinarily skilful novel. - Catholic Herald

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