The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison - review by John Burnside

John Burnside

Sobering Thoughts

The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath


Granta Books 534pp £20 order from our bookshop

That Leslie Jamison’s account of her descent into addiction should begin with a chapter entitled ‘Wonder’ is a sure sign that this is a writer who knows what she is talking about. At the age of fifteen, drunk on stolen Chardonnay or stoned on pot at a swimming party, the thoughts that come immediately to her mind are ‘What is this? And how can it keep being like this? ... More. Again. Forever.’ With intoxication, the world is illumined with a glowing sense of potentiality – and wonder is the natural precinct of the mid-teen as she grows into a mysterious world of physical pleasure, dizzy emotion and a rare species of romantic pain that sets the soul on edge and transforms ordinary events into a larger-than-life narrative. What society offers its mid-teens, however, is a hidebound routine that is very much drained of vitality: school, chores and apparently random prohibitions are substituted for the freedom to feel, the necessity to explore and what Rachel Carson once described as ‘a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years’.

Like intoxication, sex is reserved for

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