Memorable Hangovers

After doing extensive research for last week's blog, Craft Beer: Good for What Ales You, my thoughts turned to Lucky Jim, the cultish, post-war novel written by Kingsley Amis (pictured) in 1954, and its iconic description of a hangover.

Jim Dixon, aspiring academic in medieval literature, tries to further his career at a weekend faculty party, but instead creates romantic entanglements and drinks far too much:  "Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth has been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by a secret police. He felt bad."

I didn't think this literary hangover could be equaled, but that was before I read Care of Wooden Floors, by Will Wiles (2012). A hapless British copywriter house-sits for his perfectionist musician friend who lives in an unnamed, grim Former Soviet Bloc country. After spilling a drop of red wine on his host's wooden floor and unsuccessfully attempting to eradicate it, he goes out on the town to forget his troubles and drinks far too much. The hangover goes on for four pages and begins, "White noise. Indistinct sound, beneath hearing, the growl and whoosh of blood forcing through tight passages. A two-part beat, the slave-driver's padded drumsticks rising and falling as an exhausted muscle trireme heaves across a treacle ocean. A heart, pumping hot, thick goo in place of blood. Cells striving and dying. The electricity of the brain whining like an interlocutor. A cascade of neural sparks, an ascending, crackling chain reaction, synapses firing. Sensation - the sensation of no sensation. Then, awareness."

The British seem to have cornered the market on vivid hangover descriptions; you also find them in P.G. Wodehouse books, especially when Bertie Wooster is featured, as in Jeeves Takes Charge. “It felt as if someone had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling down my throat with a lighted torch.” Luckily, his valet Jeeves always comes to the rescue with his remedy of raw egg, Worcestershire sauce and pepper.

However, according to a Newsweek article, "About Last Night," there is no cure for "veisalgia," or hangover. Blame the "congeners" -- by-products of the fermentation process that ultimately break down into formaldehyde, or embalming fluid, and take up residence in the circulatory system. In other words, a hangover is a lot like dying and getting embalmed.

Bottoms up.

Written by Lisa on August 6, 2013


Laurie. on August 7, 2013


Oh Lisa! Your review has reaffirmed my drink of choice: a Shirley Temple or a Roy Rogers if I am feeling naughty. For the gentle reader who dares to venture into haunting hangover descriptions, checkout the Jonesing for Addiction booklist -


Those booklists are great - don't think I've seen that resource before. I saw several books that I'm going to check out, except the Marcia Brady one, which I will admit that I've already read.

ShellyB on August 14, 2013


How about the classic "The Lost Weekend" by Charles Jackson (also made into an Oscar winning movie). This disturbing novel goes way beyond hangover and deeply into full-blown addiction!


Thanks, Shelly. I didn't realize it was originally a book. It's really one continual hangover!

Great! on December 18, 2014


I have not read the novel written by Kingsley Amis. I am so glad that I got an opportunity to know about Jim Dixon in detail from this article. It was quite interesting to go through the memorable hangovers. The literary hangover that he has had was literally surprising.

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