al­ways half empty

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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.

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