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In Love with Hell Reviews

In Love with Hell by William Palmer

In Love with Hell: Drink in the Lives and Work of Eleven Writers

William Palmer

3.43 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Robinson
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publication date: 22 Apr 2021
ISBN: 9781472145017

A work of non-fiction about eleven writers, including Dylan Thomas, Kingsley Amis, Patrick Hamilton, Jean Rhys and Elizabeth Bishop, and drink in their lives and work.

2 stars out of 5
James Walton
23 Apr 2021

"William Palmer offers a muddled portrait of 11 alcoholic writers, from Jean Rhys to Malcolm Lowry"

Several other passages seem to confirm the suspicion created by all those contradictions that Palmer is essentially plonking down whatever crosses his mind at any given moment. A quarter of the Burgess chapter is devoted to a misty-eyed and Burgess-free reminiscence of pubs in the 1960s when the men wore ties, swearing was restricted to “bloody” and the landlord was “oddly priest-like”. But at least this has some relevance to the main subject: not something that can be said about, say, Palmer’s attacks on creative writing courses and modern libraries. In Love with Hell does contain some useful biographical snippets and a few good anecdotes. They do, however, have to be dug out from the surrounding messiness of a book that might have been more suitably subtitled Eleven Characters in Search of a Thesis.


4 stars out of 5
John Walsh
11 Apr 2021

"Authors and the bottle make for an entertaining read despite a whiff of disapproval"

An enjoyable feature of this entertaining book is its abrupt digressions and switchings of mood. While discussing the fictional pub in Burgess’s The Right to an Answer, Palmer digresses into a four-page blizzard of clichés describing a “typical” real-life pub in 1950s England, its rooms, furnishings, landlord and clientele. Speculating about how a movie of Bishop’s life would portray her, he wonders: “Was there ever a Hollywood biopic about a poet?” (At least two dozen, by my reckoning.) Discussing the miscasting of Ian Carmichael as the bespectacled hero of the Lucky Jim film, he wonders if short-sightedness might be the reason for the lack of physical description in Amis’s fiction. At such moments, you find yourself wondering if the author might himself have had a couple of sherbets, mid-composition.

4 stars out of 5
Sarah Ditum
10 Apr 2021

"William Palmer’s engrossing group biography of literary pisshead"

Because although there may not be one defining reason why writers drink, they do all share the fact that they write and it is the writing that really interests Palmer. He is a critic not a fan and perfectly happy to accuse O’Brien of pickling his talents or Lowry of degenerating to self-parody; but his enjoyment of the good parts is infectious. It is an achievement to take on this subject and succumb to neither puritanism nor romanticising. In Love With Hell will send you not to the drinks cabinet but back to your bookshelves to rediscover the brilliance that Palmer’s writers couldn’t quite drown.