We’re all familiar with the image of the dissolute painter and the debauched poet, but here’s Graeme Swanson’s pick of books by novelists who also liked to party…
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
When not being a whisky-worrier, Amis had his literary moments. Greatest of all perhaps was his first novel, the misanthropic masterpiece Lucky Jim, about a young lecturer, Jim Dixon, toiling resentfully away in a provincial university in post-war Britain. Presumably the fog of drink prevented Amis from looking far for inspiration.
Post Office, Charles Bukowski
Post Office is like being shouted at by a pissed maniac on the Tube, but you’re so compelled you miss your stop. Bukowski was King Drunken Author of the Drunken Author People and Post Office was his masterpiece. Bukowski was a bitter, cynical acerbic, alcoholic postal worker and the novel’s antihero, Henry Charles Chinaski, is a bitter, cynical acerbic, alcoholic postal worker. Like Amis his ideas notebook was next to his drink cabinet.
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
The Big Sleep (yes it means death) was written by a man who only turned to writing detective pulp in his mid-forties after being fired for being a drunk. Good. The book is a simple masterpiece, stylistically brilliant and modern. You can hear an echo of a suicide on every page.
The Old Man And The Sea, Ernest Hemingway
Well, duh, of course we’re going to have Hemingway: the man who invented the drunken author archetype, or certainly thinks he did. The Old Man And The Sea is an excellent book despite the fact that some of us had to do it in school. Really it’s about an old man and a big fish but The Old Man And The Fuck Off Fish doesn’t scan so well. And really, really it’s about drink. The Old Man and the Sea of Vodka was a harder sell.
Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton
Hamilton was a mess of a human being and lived to drink. Thankfully he could still hit a typewriter. All his books are brilliant but Hangover Square is something special. An honest, oddly amusing story of obsession, love and unrequited love set in Hamilton’s bastard lover, London. From a gripping opening paragraph to the final sentence I want tattooed, really it’s the best book by a drunk ever written.