on 7 November 2011
It's difficult to write a review of such a beautifully written book because it feels paltry in comparison. Burnside is a poet, and you can tell it in his use of language where he can make the mundane seem as gripping as a thriller, the emotion and tension as taut as a guitar string stretched to breaking point (one of his similes). This is the second instalment of Burnside's autobiography - I haven't read the first - and it tells of his working and personal life which, on the surface, isn't that much more remarkable or unremarkable than thousands of other people's lives. Burnside, however, lives his life on the cusp of madness, using alcohol and occasionally drugs to try and calm his sometimes fevered existence, while trying to explain to himself just how he came to be. His tales of the alcoholic's life and experience are disquieting and disturbing because he relates it all in such a matter of fact way. There doesn't seem to be regret over the lost hours in the bars and the bottle, more an acceptance of it as a facet of who he was, or is. Anyone who has ever woken more than once at four in the morning, lying on the sofa with the tv blaring away and a vague memory of starting drinking at some point previously in the evening will feel a cold shudder reading some of these passages. Either that, or they'll go and fix themselves a drink.
He takes the same approach to his "madness", his apophenia. He presents it as an altered state that's no better or worse than whatever normality is, but feels that he prefers it to a lot of "normal life" he sees lived by others. Perhaps most outsiders see themselves this way, that while the discontentment and restlessness causes pain, it's worth it in comparison to an alternative of boredom brought through contentment.
Although on the surface this is a fairly straightforward autobiography, it's a much deeper, philosophical and psychological examination of a state of being. I'm not sure I can explain it much more, you'll have to read it and see if it captivates and captures your attention as much as it did mine. But I'd certainly recommend it as one of the most original and thoughtful autobiographies I've read.