Best Pub Reads
Writing and drinking have long been restless bedfellows: from Ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus, cited as a pioneer in the grand tradition; to the immortal edict “write drunk, edit sober” often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway who, in fact, did not write drunk and instead offered to biographer AE Hotchner the rather more pragmatic “I have spent my life straightening out (drunks), and all my life drinking, but since writing is my true love I never get the two things mixed up.”
Fortunately, there is no such tempestuous alliance between reading and pubs: there is only pleasure. Comfortable seats, a warmth both physical & interpersonal and, most importantly, the appropriate levels of background hum to smooth your submergence into the pages. As darkness descends, seasonably drawing us ever towards winter, festivities and trying to locate the gloves you threw into storage last spring (before relenting and going out to buy a new pair, as you have done for the last 8 years), it is time to stake out your favourite corner table or barstool, grab a pint before the torrent of mulling accedes & get cosy with a selection of the booze-soaked best pub reads by those who happen to know a thing or two about drinking.
Hopelessly obsessed with beautiful failed actress Netta and spiralling down a path of self-destruction, George Harvey Bone is living a lonely, desperate life in pre-WWII London. The impending doom is palpable as Hamilton’s cast of miserabilist alcoholics, each more heinous & morally depraved than the last, stumble in fugue states towards betrayal & violence. Hangover Square is an unflinching exploration of the unhinged mind and a vivid expression of the creeping fascism brooding in Europe.
Sasha Jensen is a misanthrope, fleeing personal tragedy to relive the dreams of her youth in a succession of cheap Parisian hotel rooms; expecting nothing and finding no light in the hearts of men. Rhys exposes and subverts gender roles in this striving and progressive stream-of-consciousness novel, capturing with sly humour the inner life of a woman unmoored & the sinister lurkings of back-alley Paris.
Daphne du Maurier
Du Maurier’s Gothic heroines rarely heed warnings and orphaned Mary Yellan is no exception, as she comes to stay in a crumbling inn, with an aunt and uncle she finds almost unrecognisable, in a rainswept and treacherous part of Cornwall. Imbued with a true and deeply human horror, Jamaica Inn is a desolate pit of villainy as embroiled in secrets and despicable acts as the innkeeper himself: there is something very wrong here indeed.
Anne-Marie Stretter, enduring her son’s piano lesson, is roused by a distant scream. A murder has been committed in broad daylight. Rushing to see a crowd formed around the crime scene outside a local café, Anne begins talking to Chauvin, an enigmatic man, who claims to have witnessed the crime. As the two slowly begin to build a relationship, returning to the same café over & over, the true nature of Duras’ novel is revealed through snatches, placing you firmly at the table next to Anne, utterly transfixed. An atmospheric triumph, “Moderato Cantabile” is a slim seductive novel about the power of passion, possession and obsession.
Set in Mexico on the Day of the Dead, Lowry’s allegory of the fall of man is a deeply lyrical and evocative book, invoking history, myth & poetry and the demons they draw with them. “Under the Volcano” is the languid and indelibly haunting tale of Geoffey Firmin, a former British consul living in Mexico, spinning in desolation across a landscape that crackles with danger and its own intractable despondency, and Yvonne, his estranged wife, with her vision-forged drive to salvage him.