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Customer Review

on 18 February 2013
Arguably the UK's binge-drinking culture had its roots the socio-economic vicissitudes of 1980s, a decade that became increasingly awash with booze that started to stream in from all directions as the years went by: suddenly our staid old high street offies were joined by the branded multiples like Majestic and Oddbins that offered discounts on bulk buys on a huge range of high ABV beverages; the supermarket chains soon followed suite, and also added cheap house-brand beers and spirits into the mix. Lots of new 'themed' pubs and bars with extended licensing hours started to open with their happy hours and 'designer' premium beers. And then of course in 1986 the 'Big Bang' heralded a culture of work-hard/play hard fuelled by regular intakes of alcoholic refreshment, and champagne-swigging Yuppies became emblematic of the new City culture. And that's just the paid-for stuff: there seemed to be endless bashes, launches, openings and myriad other freebies were gratis drink of all kinds flowed... Heavy drinking became a lifestyle option. From champagne socialists to lager louts, alcohol permeated British society in a quite unprecedented way.
Alice King had the good fortune/bad luck to come to adulthood at the beginning of the '80s. With a wine merchant father, and regular exposure to the fruits of the vine during her adolescence, it seemed providential that she should bag a job as a journalist on 'Decanter' magazine. As her career progressed (to become a celebrated wine writer and consultant), so did her thirst - especially for the bubbly stuff. 'High Sobriety' describes, sometimes with harrowing but dispassionate candour, how wresting control of her boozing proclivities caused King over time to loose marriage, children, home, faltering career, and self-respect.
This might make this autobiography sound like another downbeat tale of bottle battling, but King's narrative style can also be as frothy as a flute of Veuve Clicquot (the book's hardback cover imagery presents it as bubbly-sipping chick-lit, which is not really accurate); while in other sodden episodes - such as when describing her arrest from being drunk and in charge of a road vehicle - the writing is compellingly understated. I found myself turning page after page, learning of her dipsomaniacal downfall, wondering at which point she'd reach rock bottom. The problem is that as soon as King realises her predicament, stops drinking, dries out, and eventually gets involved with Alcoholics Anonymous, her story takes a rather insipid turn, and becomes all rather suffused in warm glow. Thereafter my interest in her post-pledge life drooped rather rapidly. It all comes to a rather flat, nicey-nicey conclusion as a sobered King rediscovers the existential joys of the simple life. Otherwise 'High Sobriety' is a recommended read.
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