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Submitted Literature

The Lost Weekend

By Charles Jackson

Review

Charles Jackson’s semi-autobiographical depiction of alcoholism set in 1930’s Manhattan centres around the character of Don Birnam – an aspiring, yet unemployed writer – as he abandons himself to the grip of his alcohol addiction over a five-day period. A line from Joyce’s Dubliners at the opening of the novel: The barometer of his emotional nature was set for a spell of riot – sets the scene. Not only does it release Don from the burden and oppression of another short-lived sobriety, but it also provides the narrative impetus for the unfolding tale of alcoholic ‘madness’ that follows. Don’s artistic pretensions as a writer are equally matched by his capacity for pitiless and rigorous self-examination, and his ability to reflect on the nature of his addiction, and his wounded sense of self, are both incisive and disquieting. Jackson’s ability to portray the dysfunction, vulnerability, and tragedy at the centre of Don’s life through a series of dramatic, interwoven events and psychological vignettes, illustrates the complex, deep-seated issues that are at the heart of addiction, as well as the havoc it wreaks on the lives of those involved. Superbly crafted and painfully honest, Jackson’s book remains an unrivalled classic in the literature on alcoholism.

Key Themes:

  • Addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Self-destructive behaviour

Significant Quotes / Pages

42 – “If he had been able to hold off through yesterday, today he would have been normal again; and he knew himself and his habits well enough to know that that would have lasted some days, held possibly even two or three weeks, for he was a periodic drinker, with intervals of sobriety between. At the same time, he knew himself well enough also to know that once started, he had to go through it to the end, there was no stopping now, he could not prevent the downward curve to the final state of danger, destruction, or collapse. Short of being locked up, nothing could help him now till it had played itself out, safely or otherwise.”

 

58 – “Why was the patient here at all, what did the doctor have to offer, what was the nature of the trouble and what was the cure? Why did they never get at the root of the matter, the thing that drove him to drink? But what was the good of knowledge? – since no one, certainly not himself, knew the origin or nature of the secret pain which impelled him blindly, if by such roundabout ways, to self-destruction; the fears which he could never bring himself to face and which receded into blank when he got the drink under his belt."

 

234 – “When he got back into the house it was going to be for good, this time, there was no getting around that. It meant bed for several days, bed and frightful hangover and shattered nerves. And it was something he wasn’t going to go through without liquor to help him, liquor to taper off with gradually, a few bottles cached here and there in secret places about the flat, aid that he could turn to when the mornings got too bad.  He’d get half a dozen, somehow, somewhere. Nobody would believe, of course, that it was liquor to be used medicinally only. Nobody would believe that he would drink just enough of it and no more, just enough to keep his sanity. They’d be certain that it meant he was off again and that the long weekend was to stretch to another long week or longer. But he knew better. Knew when he was licked (temporarily). Knew when it was time to stop and recoup and get back on his feet and stay that way for a while."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Reference: Charles, Jackson. 1994. The Lost Weekend. Syracuse University Press, 1996

Reviewer

Mr Scott Fitzpatrick
Date Review Submitted: Monday 3rd August 2009