A self-confessed veteran of hard-drinking, John Sutherland's Last Drink to LA
traces the hard facts and tragic figures of alcoholism, set against his own confessional tale seen darkly through the bottom of a never-empty glass. It makes for powerful, stirring reading. Sutherland, an academic and writer, was drunk for the equivalent of "five undergraduate degrees, three PhDs, four Californian marriages, and two life sentences". Such quantifying defines him as an imaginative writer, but equally as a calculating drinker. Acknowledging the strong link between his profession and the bottle, he cites the usual bleary-eyed suspects: Norman Mailer, Jack London, Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler et al, as well as classic drinking texts, such as Pete Hamill's A Drinking Life
, Jack Wiener's The Morning After
, and even Beowulf
. Alcohol is the taste that launched a thousand quips, and as many lonely, painful deaths. Startling statistics (one in 10, a ratio that used to refer to unemployment in the UK, now refers to those of us with alcohol problems) accompany caustic observations of a society where the Prime Minister's son has illustrated the spur-earning kudos of excessive drinking. He details the history, philosophy and methods of Alcoholics Anonymous, comparing it to a "terrorist network" in its lack of organisation, but acknowledging its success rate as group therapy with certain types of drinker, including, thankfully, himself. He called time on his own habit, which had resulted in domestic violence and adultery, in 1983, and went to meetings in Los Angeles, where the companionship of a succession of attendees helped him stay clean. He admits that the trickiest parts of "AA" are its moral prescriptions (and the coffee that tasted of battery acid), but acknowledges that it offers pragmatic tools. Abstemious ever since (though he movingly details his son's struggle with similar demons), he knows his limits: "I'll die an alcoholic, I know. But, hopefully, a sober one". So no "Cheers!" but three quiet cheers, perhaps, for a persuasive piece of uncompromising writing. --David Vincent
About the Author
John Sutherland is Lord Northdiffe Professor of Modern English Literature at UCI, and a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology. A recovering drunk, he is the author of many, many books.