For me, tales of addiction are compelling in that ‘fascination of the abomination’ kind of way. Here are some of my favourites, based on the contemporary holy trinity: sex, drugs and rock & roll:
1. Monkey Grip by Helen Garner (1977)
Melbourne in the 1970s: the doomed romance between single-mother Nora, and the endearing but hopeless junkie Javo. An interesting portrait of a non-addict trying to love an addict.
2. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney (1984)
NYC in the 1980s: lots of cocaine and nightclubs and beneath, the vast chasm of meaninglessness. Agh!
3. Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis (1985)
LA in the 1980s: lots of cocaine and nightclubs and beneath, the vast chasm of meaninglessness. Agh! Actually this book was even more devastating than McInerney’s, perhaps because the main characters had had life spoiled for them at such a young age. The film is also fantastic.
4. Candy by Luke Davies (1994)
Sydney in the 1990s: a young couple passionately in love, but alas, even more in love with smack than they are with each other; the kind of book you read with a horrified fascination.
5. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (1995)
London in the 1990s: a vinyl junkie, struggling to come of age; warm, funny and so-relatable. Definitely one for people who love to make themed lists, not unlike this exact list I’m making now…
6. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (2000)
Bourdain’s memoir of life as a chef in NY’s restaurants is an endless round of drugs, booze, rock and roll and shenanigans and debauchery of all kinds. There’s a particularly memorable scene where they set fire to something in a restaurant kitchen while drunk/high accompanied by the theme music from Apocalypse Now.
7. Dry by Augusten Burroughs (2003)
Burrough’s memoir of losing himself in a few million gallons of whisky is dark and funny and sort of horrifying, but with redemption.
8. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (2003)
Mostly famous as a ‘memoir’ which turned out to be largely made up, it is a horrible and fascinating account of the rehabilitation of a hard-core alcoholic crack-head; like watching a car crash, as they say.
9. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010)
Record executives, musos, groupies, coke, pot, booze, heroin: this book’s got it all!
10. Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt (2009)
Bartender writes portraits of alcoholic customers. Then he becomes one. Why is it so funny? You’ll have to read it to understand.
Your turn: What are your favourite books featuring sex/drugs/rock & roll/ all of the above?