Here’s a drinking game you can play at home: every time Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall’s new book mentions Kingsley Amis – his hero and a giant of both postwar British fiction and guzzling alcohol – take a shot. True, you’ll be drunk by about page 20, but you will also have a good idea of where Bishop-Stall is coming from. Like the deceased, prolific author of the 1972 volume On Drink, Bishop-Stall has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, experiences, and drink, though that last one sometimes inhibits the first two.
To begin, our peripatetic author, recently turned 40, finds himself in Las Vegas, variously discharging firearms, driving sports cars at high speed, test-piloting a fighter plane, and launching himself off the roof of a tall building. He does all this in various stages of hangover from excess tippling the night before. In between bouts of blotchy skin, jackhammer headaches, sweats, chills, dehydration, and copious vomiting, Bishop-Stall takes readers on a fully lubricated international imbibing tour.
Following extended nightly quaffs of a seemingly endless variety of alcoholic concoctions, the author engages in his own anecdotal research on hangover cures using himself, friends, and strangers as subjects. These ad-hoc remedies include milk thistle, niacin, and frankincense to B vitamins, Dramamine, olive oil, charcoal scrapings from a fireplace, and continued drinking (the so-called hair of the dog approach). Bishop-Stall’s historical research is thorough and his dry, self-deprecating wit is a bracing digestif to a topic – other people’s drinking stories – that can itself drive one to drink.
Ostensibly, this book is about the search for an effective hangover cure, but the author’s journey brings him face-to-face with a more troubling existential question: if one can drink and drink and not feel crapulent the next day, how will one learn the damage one is doing to mind, body, soul, and wallet – to say nothing of spouses, offspring, friends, and loved ones? Why, in that case, would one stop drinking at all?
That is the big question that remains unanswered here, especially as the author becomes a new father and loses his girlfriend in the process of writing the book. The other big question that goes unasked is: why do I drink so much in the first place? The real cure may lie somewhere in this vicinity.