Charles Jackson, The Lost Weekend (1944)
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in The Existential drinker
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Charles Jackson’s novel The Lost Weekend is usually seen as an indictment of alcoholics, an accurate depiction of their self-deceptions and lying to others, with an accusation that drinking is no more than an escape, a failure to face up to personal and social responsibility. As with other books with protagonists who commit to drinking, possible reasons are given for the failing self (suppressed homosexuality; relationship with the parents; unsuccessful career), but such interpretations miss the significance of repetition in this novel: the drinker continually faces his demons in a manner that London’s John Barleycorn argues is more truthful than the evasions of everyday sobriety. Unlike the Hollywood film version of the novel (which brought ‘alcoholism’ as a serious issue into the cultural mainstream), Jackson’s narrative is unusual in that rather than offering an ending which sees the death of the drinker or his reformation, it shows the character wondering what all the fuss is about and preparing himself for another binge. The chapter analyses the novel’s various conceptualisations of self and alcohol, its knowing engagement with psychiatry and psychology, the figure of the writer-drinker, and also covers its treatment of temporality.

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