The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing
On Writers and Drinking

69%

16 Critic Reviews

By the end of her book, we see Ms. Laing's authors reduced to spiritual entropy. After their heroism and passion are accounted for, the truth is that they drank to get drunk. Their writings are unique, but their drunkenness is pretty much the same.
-WSJ online

Synopsis

WHY IS IT THAT SOME OF THE GREATEST WORKS OF LITERATURE HAVE BEEN PRODUCED BY WRITERS IN THE GRIP OF ALCOHOLISM, AN ADDICTION THAT COST THEM PERSONAL HAPPINESS AND CAUSED HARM TO THOSE WHO LOVED THEM?

In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver.

All six of these writers were alcoholics, and the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work, from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to A Moveable Feast. Often, they did their drinking together: Hemingway and Fitzgerald ricocheting through the cafés of Paris in the 1920s; Carver and Cheever speeding to the liquor store in Iowa in the icy winter of 1973.

Olivia Laing grew up in an alcoholic family herself. One spring, wanting to make sense of this ferocious, entangling disease, she took a journey across America that plunged her into the heart of these overlapping lives. As she travels from Cheever's New York to Williams's New Orleans, and from Hemingway's Key West to Carver's Port Angeles, she pieces together a topographical map of alcoholism, from the horrors of addiction to the miraculous possibilities of recovery.

Beautiful, captivating, and original, The Trip to Echo Spring strips away the myth of the alcoholic writer to reveal the terrible price creativity can exert.

 

About Olivia Laing

See more books from this Author
OLIVIA LAING is the author of To the River, published by Canongate to critical acclaim, and shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize. She was deputy books editor of the Observer, and writes for The Guardian, New Statesman, and The Times Literary Supplement, among other publications. She lives in Cambridge.
 
Published December 31, 2013 by Picador. 353 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Trip to Echo Spring
All: 16 | Positive: 11 | Negative: 5

Kirkus

Good
on Oct 20 2013

What can we learn from the sodden stories of six gifted but alcoholic writers? Much—and maybe not enough...A provocative, evocative blend of memoir, literary history and lyrical travel writing.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Sep 30 2013

...she forthrightly calls out her subjects on their alcoholic evasions and self-deceptions while maintaining a clear-eyed sympathy for their travails. The result is a fine study of a human frailty through the eyes of its most perceptive victims.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by John Williams on Jan 05 2014

What lingers is the complexity of the problems that dominated these authors’ life and work, and how hard it is precisely to place alcohol in that emotional matrix, even if its physical effects became devastatingly clear.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Lawrence Osborne on Dec 26 2013

...Laing succumbs to the temptation to get science to do some of the heavy lifting, to illuminate the human mystery that often baffles the observer. This is understandable, but it causes her narrative to slip below the standard she has set for herself.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Sophia Martelli on May 25 2014

And while there is no straightforward answer to why writers drink, Laing explores the causes in admirable detail and astonishingly good prose – incisive, powerful, illuminating – that rivals the output of the authors she is writing about.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Victoria Segal on May 23 2014

...Olivia Laing's second book lines up genres like shot glasses along a bar...her study of six alcoholic American writers...is so carefully measured it rarely loses clarity...Such terrible emptiness might be the overriding theme, but the book is full of insight, compassion and unexpected beauty.

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NY Journal of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Jane Haile on Mar 17 2015

This seems a surprisingly flat and trite ending for such a vivid writer though perhaps the last sentence it is self-referential, and she is uncomfortable talking about herself.

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Blog Critics

Below average
Reviewed by Jack Goodstein on Dec 26 2013

In the end I’m not sure that some of the central questions about writing and drinking ever really get answered. Their alcoholism may have destroyed them, but did it in some way make them great writers?

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WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by Henry Allen on Jan 02 2014

By the end of her book, we see Ms. Laing's authors reduced to spiritual entropy. After their heroism and passion are accounted for, the truth is that they drank to get drunk. Their writings are unique, but their drunkenness is pretty much the same.

Read Full Review of The Trip to Echo Spring: On W... | See more reviews from WSJ online

NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Maureen Corrigan on Jan 03 2014

Laing, wisely, doesn't reach any one-size-fits-all conclusions about the bond between the pen and the bottle. Some of her writers drink, it seems, to quell panic and self-disgust; others as a stimulant; others for who-knows-what reason.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Jane Ciabattari on Dec 31 2013

The Trip to Echo Spring is beautifully written, haunting, tragic and instructive in the best sense. It's a book for writers, and for readers, a book to read more than once.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Mark Gustafson on Jan 21 2014

While Laing deftly intertwines lives and works in unpredictable ways, the cumulative treatment of each writer is necessarily distinct.

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Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Alice Spawls on Aug 02 2013

At its best, Laing’s prose is lucid and exuberant. She rejects the opportunities for humour, although some of the stories are very funny indeed; and traces rather than interrogates her subjects. She knows them intimately...

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The Economist

Above average
on Aug 03 2013

Concentrating solely on the role alcohol played in the lives of these writers is an audacious move. To a degree, Ms Laing manages to pull it off. Her book has its shortcomings...But there is much to enjoy in this trip across America. In Ms Laing’s hands these famously complicated men become fragile, and terribly human.

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National Post arts

Below average
Reviewed by LAUREN B. DAVIS on Jan 17 2014

I wondered why no women were included...Although there are more than enough alcoholic women writers to choose from (Jean Rhys, Dorothy Parker, Jean Stafford, Marguerite Duras, Shirley Jackson, Anne Sexton, Gwendolyn MacEwen) it’s possible they simply wouldn’t have the same commercial value as a book about “The Boys.”

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by LAUREN B. DAVIS on Jan 17 2014

The beauty of Laing’s book is that by the end we feel a deeper understanding and compassion for, as Laing says, “the kind of stories an alcoholic tells himself: confused, self-lacerating and resolutely bedded in denial.” Perhaps we also see ourselves.

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Reader Rating for The Trip to Echo Spring
72%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 148 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


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