Good writing essentially redeems a potentially self-defeating subject in the Scottish author’s absorbing fourth: a first-person chronicle of alcoholism that’s equal parts despairing, funny, and intermittently tiresome.
Protagonist Hannah Luckraft (whose surname vibrates with suggestions of repeated false hopes amid serial wreckage) is a 30ish underachiever who still lives with her frustrated but indulgent parents, loses successive jobs (pointedly, that of sales rep for a cardboard-manufacturing company), has unsatisfying sex with nondescript dominant males, and drinks—Lord, how she drinks. The 14 chapters here doubtless connote the Stations of the Cross (one character refers to them rather obtrusively), but it’s hard to decide whether Hannah is one of those Dostoevsky called the “insulted and injured,” or a detached sardonic observer of her own ruinous flaws (“I am enough to make one miserable. I am too much to bear”). In any case, she keeps right on her way to hell, tormenting her long-suffering mum (a nice crisp characterization) and self-righteous younger brother, and making a mess of a chance for possible happiness with her fellow souse and sometime lover, dentist Robert Gardener. Paradise (the blissful state Hannah seeks in alcohol) is sometimes gloomy and redundant (there are echoes of Jean Rhys and Malcolm Lowry, and a hint of her countryman Alasdair Gray’s far livelier 1982, Janine), more often buoyed by Kennedy’s flinty descriptive skills and bracing black humor. Fortunately, the general malaise is broken up by such beguiling set pieces as Hannah’s residence at a Dickensian rehab clinic and a climactic train journey whose grotesque details suggest a fusion of Hieronymus Bosch and Irvine Welsh. Kennedy (Indelible Acts, 2003, etc.) is a risk-taker, and her fiction often succeeds in inverse proportion to its formal smoothness and symmetry.
It rambles, and it’s a downer. But there’s a real kick to it.