The more I delve into The Memory of Love, the more references there are to alcohol. There seems to be at least some talk of alcohol in every chapter, some more explicit than others. Whether they involve Adrian leisurely unwinding at home with a glass of whiskey, the Western doctors at the hospital drinking wine for a colleague’s birthday, or Elias in his drunken stupor at the lunar landing party, I feel as though there is this omnipresence of booze that coincides with this notion of leaving one world and entering another. While characters like Elias, Adrian and Kai retreat into their most inner-memories, alcohol seems to temporary serve as an escape from the confines of reality. As Agnes’ story comes into fruition, and all of the fascinating information surrounding her “fugue” diagnosis, I cannot help but consider this: is Aminatta Forna’s continual mention of inebriation and intoxication a metaphorical reference or comparison to this psychological condition?
I made this connection in Chapter 17 when Elias, with all of his disdain towards Julius, said, “He possessed the ability to drink himself to incoherence and back to lucidity.” (131) Immediately upon reading this sentence, I made a footnote that said “between two worlds.” While Julius appears to be a “happy drunk,” as gregarious and co-dependent upon human interaction as he may be, then there is Elias who is what we can call a “sad drunk” for all intensive purposes. He himself says he becomes “maudlin” when he drinks (152) and “lost in self-pity, frustration and alcohol” (150) at the climactic Ocean Club party where he becomes a “sloppy drunk,” for lack of a better term within this context. While drinking elevates Julius, alcohol makes Elias “close in upon himself.” (107) Even with Adrian we see an exaggerated mood at the bar alongside Kai where he was “drunk enough to follow.” (106)
To me these feel like a parallel to Agnes’ mental disposition where she is unknowingly “searching for something” and failing to find it (116)- just like Elias who is eagerly looking for solace in alcohol but to no prevail. Considering that alcohol is a definite mood-altering chemical, to what extent are these characters using it as a intentional means of escape or as a temporary means to cope with the harshness of reality? Considering that cases of post-traumatic stress escalated after the Civil War, I wonder whether or not alcoholism also did as people attempted to self-medicate themselves in hopes of forgetting prior events.