In Love with Hell: Drink in the Lives and Work of Eleven Writers by William Palmer - review by Sophie Duncan

Sophie Duncan

Through a Glass, Darkly

In Love with Hell: Drink in the Lives and Work of Eleven Writers


Robinson 262pp £20

Although much of the biographical detail found in In Love with Hell has been published elsewhere, William Palmer re-examines the lives of the eleven writers who form the subject of his study through the lens of their alcoholism. These include Anthony Burgess, Patrick Hamilton, Malcolm Lowry and Kingsley Amis. They are studied in series rather than in parallel, though some of them knew each other and Dylan Thomas recurs throughout. There are some salutary, distinctive reappraisals, including of the lives of Jean Rhys and Elizabeth Bishop. Rhys’s novel Wide Sargasso Sea is now the traditional secondary school gateway to postcolonialism. Palmer’s sketch of Rhys is incisive: a slaveowner’s great-granddaughter, she was born into colonial comfort in Dominica, envied the black population and later struggled as a London chorus girl.

Through his subjects, Palmer produces a cartography of art and drink stretching from Key West to W1, via Laugharne and New York’s Bellevue Hospital. He notes alcohol’s inspirational force and its deleterious effects. Burgess’s description of ‘the hymeneal gouging-off of the bottle-top, the kiss of the brown yeasty flow’ in

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