always half empty
hangover story of all time. This little gem of literary criticism is contained in a chapter on the hangover, which Amis divides into two distinct but related beasts: the physical hangover, no description required, and the metaphysical hangover, the fear, essentially. It won’t spoil the reader’s enjoyment to reveal his advice on overcoming a hangover can be distilled to two principles: one, do whatever you need to do so that you can tolerate another drink; two, do this as soon as you can.
Of the three books collected here, the first, On Drink , is the best, showcasing Amis in all his intolerant glory while providing practical advice on what to drink when and how to mix it, the indispensable tools for a properly equipped drinks cabinet, and so on. Fellow toper Christopher Hitchens provides a crisp introduction, like a predinner glass of champagne that piques the palate for the vintage labels to follow.
The second book, Every Day Drinking ( it’s correctly titled everywhere but on the cover), contains too much overlap with the first, reflecting the fact Amis returned to favourite themes in his columns. The editors unconvincingly argue that smoothing out this repetition ‘‘ would be as self-denying as passing up a Laphroaig simply because you’d had a Glenfid- dich earlier in the evening’’. However, it will be less annoying if you treat this book like a good scotch, sipping a few of its short chapters at a time. The pieces were not intended to be downed in one go. The third book, How’s Your Glass? , is a series of quizzes Amis devised for his readers and is the least satisfying part of the collection.
As Hitchens points out, Zachary Leader’s 2006 biography of Amis leaves us in no doubt that the drink got the better of him in the end, and there’s nothing witty or crankily charming about that. But Hitchens continues: Winston Churchill once boasted that he had got more out of drink than it had taken out of him and, life being the wager that it is, was quite probably not wrong in that. In these pages we meet another man who made it work for him, and for others, too. So let’s finish with the Amis one can only admire. Hitchens recalls being present at a gathering where the drinks were flowing too slowly for Kinger’s liking. As his glass slipped from his hand to the floor, the great man exclaimed to his host: ‘‘ Oh — thank heavens it was empty.’’ Stephen Romei is editor of The Australian Literary Review.