Archives for category: Alcoholism

I love Sebastian Barry’s writing. His prose is so lyrical and poetic, you do not want to miss a single word. Having enjoyed The Secret Scripture and On Canaan’s Side, I very much looked forward to his new novel, The Temporary Gentleman. I read it in less than 24 hours and was not disappointed.

In many ways, it reminded me of John Williams Stoner as it also tells the life story – a tragic life story – of one man and his family. It differs in many ways also, not least because The Temporary Gentleman is narrated in the first person of the main character, Jack.

We follow Jack’s story as he begins, in his 50s or so, the retrospective diary of his life. It is a sad and mostly regretful life, not least because alcohol dominated throughout. It is this that I want to focus on here, how Barry depicts the tragic effects of alcoholism. The Irish and alcohol are intimately and historically interconnected, but Barry does not default to stereotyping. The tone throughout is empathic rather than judgemental, as the situation in which Jack and his wife Mai inescapably find themselves unfolds:

‘It was as if the bricks and mortar of the house itself were saturated in alcohol.’

‘To remember drunkenness is so difficult because it is really a form of human absence, a maelstrom that blanks out the landscape.’

Behind the alcohol is the story of a couple who have lost each other, and who fleetingly regain something in the shared camaraderie of drinking. But as drink follows drink, the inebriated state again turns them into enemies:

‘But the savagery, the gear of savagery. The subtle metallic click of the machinery, when the rack is brought to the starting point, and the ropes are tied to the body.’

‘The terrifying eloquence of the barely articulate drinker. Insults, that might have done as well in the form of a knife, fashioned into a great bludgeon, for fear it would not strike home…

…Turning ourselves night after night into monsters, the creations of some failed Frankenstein…

..Nothing left at the centre but the cinder of what had been, splinters of the lost panel depicting out setting forth nearly thirty years before, in heroic guise, on this darkening journey.’

‘In the morning — nothing ever mentioned.’

The darkness is infinite and the black hole in which Jack and Mai find themselves is bottomless. But there is redemption here, of sorts. And love. The Temporary Gentleman is perhaps not an uplifting read, but a necessary one.

 

CQ

The timing of this release, which deals with the awfulness of alcohol excess and alcoholism, is perhaps no accident.

It is a great film, shocking and tragic at times, but also moving and ultimately uplifting.

The story revolves around a young married couple, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, fabulous, and such a challenging role) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), who appear to have a great and fun time together, albeit mostly in a state of drunkenness.

Drinking too much ceases to be fun, and becomes scary and destructive for Kate, a primary school teacher, who starts vomiting in front of her pupils post binge. She also wets the bed. A kindly colleague introduces her to AA, and a road, of sorts, to recovery.

Getting rid of alcohol from Kate’s life throws other issues into sharp focus, particularly her marriage, which she had never before experienced sober.

The rest you will find out for yourself, when you experience this must-see film…

What I particularly admired was the film’s (and director James Ponsoldt’s) refusal to shirk away from portraying the shocking reality of the drunk alcoholic. At times it was difficult to watch Kate’s excruciating behaviour when drunk. This is not a pretty, or funny, or remotely endearing depiction. Just, almost unbearably, tragic.

Smashed makes no attempt to soften the reality of alcoholism. At the same time, it is neither maudlin nor overly sentimental. An almost perfect balance. It is a gem of an authentic, honest, thoughtful and considered movie on a very difficult condition that affects so many, both directly and indirectly.

As a work of art, it unifies humanness and suffering, while at the same time embracing the optimism and hope that drives us to make our lives honest and true and meaningful.

CQ

Watching the Culture Show on BBC iplayer (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01ny2y7/The_Culture_Show_2012_2013_Episode_19/), I was particularly interested in the piece on John Bellany, currently the most celebrated of contemporary Scottish artists.

The piece links to a major retrospective on Bellany’s work, ‘A Passion for Life’, which has just opened at The National Gallery Scotland. The artist, at 70, is as productive as ever, if not more so.

Bellany’s life has been a turbulent one, dominated early on by alcoholism, which led to a successful liver transplant in 1988. What helped him through his suffering and pain, and since, has been art. He does not separate his work from the personal, believing that this is what in fact defines fine art.

In 2010, the documentary Bellany – Fire in the Blood by the artist’s son Paul was first screened. It is the moving story of a family imploding due to Bellany’s alcoholism, and then coming together again.

The artist absolutely believes that painting has saved him. Following his transplant, his work changed, becoming more colourful and vibrant. He suddenly saw the world in cinemascope, whereas previously it had been cloaked in a haze.

Of painting, Bellany at 70 says ‘I love it so much’.

He also states:

‘I love being alive.’…

CQ