Ablutions – Patrick deWitt

If you like books about alcohol, this is the book for you. DeWitt’s debut novel is an amazingly enthralling tale of demise. We follow the downward spiral of a young barmen in Hollywood; as the novel goes on we see the unnamed barman protagonist descend into a life of booze, with increasingly negative consequences. His relationship with Jameson whiskey builds whilst his other relationships crumble. The protagonist is clearly unhappy, for what reason, we never learn. promo_384x384

The novel is subtitled, ‘Notes for a Novel’, and each small sketch outlines a new idea to be used in a novel. Ablutions is a risky novel due to this but deWitt makes it work. DeWitt’s  subtitle allows for a disassociated narrative style; second person narration, potentially the protagonists conscience? Yet deWitt’s narration is excellent, vivid and real; th
is is a bar I can imagine, dark, seedy and full of characters. We are certainly seeing this through the eyes of the protagonist, most memorably when he is said to be viewing, ‘hundreds of pairs of cowboy boots, no two alike, walking along together in a pack‘. I can imagine this scene, not from experience, but from the manner in which deWitt writes. This second person narration adds some urgency to the narrative, but most powerfully it allows the reader to be there, in the moment.

This is a novel all about addiction. It is not sympathetic to the barmen, does not glorify alcoholism and is often brutally honest. Dewitt has managed to describe human characteristics in a brilliant manner; I’m sure every adult has had a moment where they have tried to hide their drunken state. I would thoroughly recommend this novel, it is entertaining and poetic, whilst be both funny and sad.


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