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  • Writer's pictureBarefoot Bookseller


Updated: Oct 24, 2020

I’ve chosen some of my favourite literary shots about alcohol in fiction, spanning the full spectrum of the good, the bad and the hungover

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

It would be downright rude to start with anything other than a quote from The Great Gatsby, an era-defining novel laden with liquor

‘The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word.’

An Ounce of Cure, Alice Munro

Our heartbroken teenage protagonist attempts to dull

the pain of a lost first love, and gets her measurements wrong

‘When I say that I was expecting extravagant results I do not mean that I was expecting this. I had thought of some sweeping emotional change, an upsurge of gaiety and irresponsibility, a feeling lawlessness and escape, accompanied by a little dizziness and perhaps a tendency to giggle out loud. I did not have in mind the ceiling spinning like a great plate somebody had thrown at me, nor the pale green blobs of the chairs swelling, converging, disintegrating, playing with me a game full of enormous senseless inanimate malice.’

Taste, Roald Dahl

When wine snobs dine they decide to play a little game to test their sommelier skills, but it leaves them a little red in the face . . .

‘ . . . and when discussing a wine, he had a curious, rather droll habit of referring to it as though it were a living being. “A prudent wine,” he would say, “rather diffident and evasive, but quite prudent.” Or, “A good-humoured wine, benevolent and cheerful – slightly obscene, perhaps, but none the less good-humoured.”’

First Person, Richard Flanagan

Protagonist Kif intends to drink away his ghost-writing difficulties with his friend Ray, who has a creative, if not repulsive, palate

‘He cursed Heidl, bought a jug of beer and six Southern Comforts, and grabbed some glasses. . . He poured the Southern Comfort into each beer glass and topped them with beer. It made the beer taste manky, but taste was never Ray’s primary interest in drink.’

Not Working, Lisa Owens

Claire resolves to survive a stuffy dinner party without imbibing, but falls at the first hurdle

‘How about some Shiraz?’ He must have noticed me gazing at it like a lovelorn adolescent, and hovers the bottle temptingly over my glass. ‘Or why don’t we start there, anyway?’

You Were Perfectly Fine, Dorothy Parker

I found this short story extremely funny until I recognized the familiarity in the sheer fear of the morning after the night before

“Tell me, was I terrible last night?” “Oh, goodness,” she said, “everybody was feeling pretty high. You were all right.”

“Yeah, he said.” I must have been dandy. Is everybody sore at me?” “Good heavens, no” she said. “Everyone thought you were terrible funny. Of course, Jim Pierson was a little stuffy, there for a minute at dinner. But people sort of held him back in his chair, and got him calmed down. I don’t think anybody at the other tables noticed at all. Hardly anybody.’”

Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding

Oh, Bridget

‘Alcohol units: 5. Drowning sorrows. Cigarettes: 23. Fumigating sorrows.’


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