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The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink Hardcover – 1 Aug 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (1 Aug. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847677940
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847677945
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 2.9 x 22 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 234,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Olivia Laing's writing is beautifully modulated, her tone knowledgeable yet intimate. She can evoke a state of mind as gracefully as she evokes a landscape. The Trip to Echo Spring is a book for all writers or would-be writers. It's one of the best books I've read about the creative uses of adversity: frightening but perversely inspiring" (HILARY MANTEL)

"The Trip to Echo Spring is original, brave and very moving. Laing's way of looking at a natural world that is free from human faults repeatedly prompts something like the "spiritual awakening" AA attendees hope for. Her insights shine with beauty yet are shaded by sympathy and compassion" (Observer)

"Laing's analysis of the complex addiction is consistently shrewd. But what makes The Trip to Echo Spring truly worthwhile is that she, like those she writes about, is a terrific writer" (John Sutherland The Times)

"I loved The Trip to Echo Spring. It's a beautiful book that has stayed with me in a profound way" (NICK CAVE)

"Beguiling and incisive" (New York Times)

"Laing's prose is lucid and exuberant. She rejects the opportunities for humour, although some of the stories are very funny indeed; and traces rather than interrogates her subjects. She knows them intimately and the result is a thoughtful study, part literary biography, part travel memoir" (Financial Times)

"Beguiling, beautifully written... brilliant and original" (John Carey The Sunday Times)

"Laing is a brilliant wordsmith and this is a beautifully accomplished book" (Frances Spalding Independent)

"Full of insight, compassion and unexpected beauty" (Guardian)

"It's deliciously evocative, Laing's melancholic and lyrical style conjuring the location, before effortlessly segueing into medical facts about alcoholism, the effects on the lives of each writer, and well-chosen passages from their work. This is a highly accomplished book, and highly recommended" (The List)

"A triumphant exercise in creative reading in which diary entries, letters, poems, stories and plays are woven together to explore deep, interconnected themes of dependence, denial and self-destructiveness. It is a testimony to this book's compelling power that having finished it, I immediately wanted to read it again" (Scotland on Sunday)

"While there is no straightforward answer to why writers drink, Laing explores the causes in admirable detail and astonishingly good prose that rivals the output of the authors she is writing about" (Observer)

"Laing is a fine and stylish travel writer, with a sharp eye for passing detail and an acute ear for oddly amusing conversations" (Gordon Bowker Independent: i & Radar)

"Laing's descriptions of the American landscape, as she travels south from New York to New Orleans and Key West, and then north up to St Paul and Port Angeles, are a joy to read. She has a keen eye for the details of American streets... She captures the discomfort of long train journeys... and evokes the smells and sounds of an unknown city. A thunderstorm is recorded in intimate detail; the snatched conversations of fellow travellers are threaded into her narrative... there is much to enjoy in this trip across America. In Ms Laing's hands these famously complicated men become fragile, and terribly human" (The Economist)

"Laing writes so well, so seductively in fact, that this deconstructed way of pursuing a story works brilliantly again" (London Evening Standard)

"Laing is often perceptive. She has a flair for elegant, cursive summaries of these various bodies of work and the shaping pressures of drink upon them" (Times Literary Supplement)

"A wonderful read" (GQ Magazine)

"In pages of great lyric beauty, Laing travels in the footsteps of Cheever and company across America from New York to New Orleans. At times the writing shows a Hemingway influence ('In Alabama the earth was red and there was wisteria in the trees'); at others, a demotic Raymond Carver cut ('The hell with it'). The book, a hybrid of travel and literary criticism, is always engaging to read, as it casts a humane eye on the accidents, illness, social impairment and other damage caused by drink to the poet Berryman in particular, whose outraged innards and pale, wayworn face showed the horror of his multi-day benders and the moaning after the night before" (Spectator)

"Laing makes us care about these writers' sufferings, the self-wreaked ravages on vital organs, the inexorable blackings-out of genius. But she makes us cherish even more what they left behind: literature soaked with "the power to map the more difficult regions of human experience"" (Independent on Sunday)

"The book's subtitle, Why Writers Drink, undersells Laing's achievement. She has produced not an answer to a glib question, but a nuanced portrait - via biography, memoir, analysis - of the urge of the hyperarticulate to get raving drunk... The book achieves its greatest force through Laing's mix of intellect and intuition, which often recalls the New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm" (New Statesman)

"Olivia Laing [is] a rising English critic who matches smart textual analysis of 20th-century greats with down-and-dirty ferreting around the places where they lived and worked... This is a superb idea, exceptionally well executed" (Metro)

"Why read it? For its intoxicating prose and maverick spirit" (Tatler)

"An elegant rumination on what it is that leads writers to take up the bottle" (London Review of Books)

"By turns uplifting, horrific, and desperately sad, this is a fascinating, lyrical and original approach to addiction" (Good Book Guide)

"Laing's lively, stylistically original and sometimes acutely personal study of writers and alcohol avoids literary cliché while coaxing out the subtext of their writings to show the causes and effects of addiction" (Books of the Year The Times)

"[A] charming and gusto-driven look at the alcoholic insanity of six famous writers . . . There is much to learn from Laing's supple scholarship-and much to enjoy, too, in her obvious passion and engagement" (New York Times Book Review)

"Juicy and sensitive" (New York Times Magazine)

"Fascinating" (Metro)

"Enthralling" (Psychologies)

"It's a fascinating book and at its heart is the lasting work of those literary giants" (Daily Mail)

"What gives her book its brilliance and originality [is] the quality of the writing" (Sunday Times)

"Wonderful . . . this book is something more than a romantic celebration of the artist-souse" (Independent)

"Olivia Laing's elegant cocktail of biography and travelogue reflects on the liquor-sodden works of six American writers while she crosses the States tipsily by rail" (Daily Telegraph)

"A charming and gusto-driven look at the alcoholic insanity of six famous authors: John Cheever, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver" (New York Times, 100 Notable Books of 2014)

"Haunting . . . a moving, troubling, gorgeously written book" (Independent on Sunday, Paperbacks of the Year)

Book Description

From the acclaimed author of To The River - one of the best reviewed books of 2011 - comes a fascinating and highly original investigation into the myth of the alcoholic writer, now shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Biography Award.

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Trip to Echo Spring : Why Writers Drink, by British author Olivia Laing, is partly a biographical exploration of 6 American writers and literary criticism of their works in reference to the influence addiction played.

It is also an analysis of the physiology of addiction, and an exploration of treatment protocols, particularly those based on the Minnesota Model (AA and 12 Step programmes)
And it gets much more personal than this; the analysing writer inserts her own journey into this critical assessment, in the guise of the story of the road trip Laing took across the States, in the footsteps of the writers she examines. Along the way, Laing, a fine writer about the natural world also inserts herself and her own family history of addiction into the mix, as what is referred to as an `Adult Child of Alcoholic Background' - her mother's partner was, whilst Laing was a child, a suffering alcoholic.

Anyone with any history of alcoholism in their family, anyone who works with alcoholics or their families, knows that alcoholism is a condition which profoundly affects the family and close friends of the alcoholic, perhaps none more profoundly than the children in an alcoholic household.

Laing is an excellent, thoughtful, reflective writer, but whilst I was utterly enamoured by an earlier book of hers, a story of another journey, one taken on foot the length of the River Ouse, with Virginia Woolf as a theme running through it, Echo Spring had me part fascinated, part frustrated, not always sure whether the sum of the disparate parts quite worked or not.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this over a three day period. It inspired me, gave me insight into alcohol abuse and its relevance to some of my favourite American writers, and it also made me want to go back to Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Williams et al, and read them again with more intentness.

I'm expecting a parcel of some of those books [and a few films] any time now.

Written as a journey around the States, Laing is the best travelling companion, observant, clever and cool. We learn just enough about her life to make the observations on alcohol very poignant, and by the end of the book we like and respect her enormously.

An important work of scholarship, which is immensely readable and compassionate.

Laing is a magician...
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By Adam VINE VOICE on 5 July 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
“The Trip to Echo Springs” is part travelogue, part literary biography of 6 US writers with a central focus on their alcoholism.
Those writers are F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, John Berryman and Raymond Carver. Olivia Laing tackles them in that order, although there is a lot of inter-crossing of their narratives around different themes, e.g. the effects of childhood trauma, and the roller-coasters of their work, love, marriage, the euphoric highs and catastrophic lows, and of course, their disastrous relationship with alcohol.
Laing draws no pat conclusions in looking at the above themes. Her central exploration is that of the relationship between alcohol and writing. Common themes include how these alcoholics both scapegoat their writing for their drinking, i.e. it leads them to places where they have to drink to get through, those intense arenas of the imagination. Another thread in all their writing lives is how drinking damages their productivity. More than one of them seems only to be able to write until midday before giving the rest of their waking hours to the bottle.
There a slight digression into the science of alcoholism and this is a fascinating short precis. Its brevity is partly explained on how little science knows on the subject, and partly because this is literary biography not scientific study.
Without a doubt, Laing captures how seductively these writers describe drinking, e.g. Hemmingway’s “lovely gin,” and she also captures it in her own descriptive passages, how John Cheever consoles himself early in the morning with “scoops of gin” from the kitchen fridge.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Trip to Echo Spring" written by Olivia Laing is a book that talks about the unusual connection between something we usually consider as human weakness, and on the other hand something that is timeless and gives inspiration.

It's well known that many writers and artists in general liked drinking, and that many of them deeply steeped in alcoholism - to answer the question of why is this so is not easy, whether it comes to the release of inspiration that alcohol offers, running away from reality in the form of bottle or just to be an artist is not easy and you need something to help you bear the pain.

In her book "The Trip to Echo Spring", Olivia Laing made extensive research about the work and lives of six extraordinary artists, writers whose lives have been marked by alcohol which due to it or despite it, created many literary masterpieces - John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Carver and John Berryman.

The author, who is from UK, set herself the task to go to places where they lived and worked, she talked to people who knew them, read their personal their personal belongings - journals and letters, unraveling the mystery and connection of their creativity and their weaknesses.
The sad truth is that two of six of them were killed by alcohol, while two of them made a suicide, forever hiding the secret of whether alcohol was a consequence or cause of their misery.

In her book, like in cocktail, she mixed lot of things - except presenting some biographical elements about the authors that are unknown to the wider public, she critically talks about the psychology of alcoholics and how alcohol affects the man and his abilities.
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