Wasted by Elspeth Muir



“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m borrowing the above quite from Muir who borrows it from Fitzgerald for her latest work of non-fiction: Wasted. Muir uses writing to come to grips with the death of her youngest brother’s maybe-accidental-maybe-not death by drunken drowning. The book explores not only the lead up and the aftermath to Alexander’s death but also Muir’s own rocky relationship with alcohol and the drinking culture of Australia more broadly.

Biography meets auto-biography meets cultural studies meets social justice. I find myself reading more and more of these types of books lately (see The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson or Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford). Or maybe just more and more of them are being published. Biography plus. Biography with benefits. Biography ultra.

Muir is very comfortable as a writer. Wasted is effortlessly lyrical, darkly humorous, and deeply insightful without being prescriptive or condemning. The sorrows and joys of drinking are both documented. Muir is also very comfortable exposing the faults and mishaps (funny and tragic; often both) of her entire family. Although focusing primarily on her brother’s death and her own relationship with alcohol, Muir isn’t afraid to point the magnifying glass at the rest of her family or her friends. Her alcoholic grandfather, her reckless brothers, and her troubled boyfriends all get a bit of attention in Wasted. Attention that is equal parts affectionate and, when looking in hindsight, critical. Recommended.

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