Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Book review: On Drugs, Chris Fleming (2019)

This brilliant memoir chronicles a life, but particularly that part of Fleming’s life that involved the use of drugs and alcohol.

Addiction is common and the use to excess of alcohol, illicit substances, and gambling is widespread. The huge influence of the Australian Hotels Association, the stupendous size of the criminal drug trade, and the massive scale of the gambling industry (which, to borrow a common media trope, state governments, themselves, are addicted to via taxation) all attest to the need of people to seek comfort from chemicals in order to escape the boredom and pain – perhaps best expressed by Hunter Thompson: “fear and loathing” – that mundane life can bring with its endless procession of small events and its petty struggles.

What Fleming so humorously does – as though someone had crossed Winnie the Pooh with Nick Cave to arrive at a sort of surreal hybrid form of entertainer (because this book is very entertaining) – is to display the pathos of this kind of life (the only one we have) – and hint at the tragedy that lies waiting if we lose the things that can keep us on an even keel. What must be those techniques, totems, prayers, incantations, or spells?

It seems there isn’t a one-size-fits-all method of staying sober and sane. Just as every society, in its own way, has to learn the hard lessons that lead to peace and to progress.

From the outset, you’re hooked (reading is a benign kind of addiction, since it actually does you good, as studies have shown). What does the trick is the whimsy and intelligence of the prose, the thoroughness of this academic’s approach to unearthing the truth, and what seems like a supernatural memory.

But like all really good nonfiction, this book turns up things that are unrelated to the subject immediately at hand and, in doing so, expresses something profound about the human condition. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book and I highly recommend it. 

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