Alcohol-induced “Fugue”

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.

About Jacob Atkins

young professional delving into convoluted world of freelance journalism, investigative reporting, and foreign correspondence. Originally from Maine, educated in Washington, D.C. and soon-to-be living in Santiago, Chile- I'm an introspective extrovert with nomadic tendencies

Posted on October 17, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think alcohol represents an essential symbol. I agree with you that alcohol is used heavily because it is a method (though not a healthy one) to cope with pain and deal with traumatic events. Elias needs to drink to deal with his sorrow with Saffia. Adrian drinks to deal with all these harrowing tales and his own personal problems.

  2. I also noticed the continuous presence of booze and alcohol in the novel: Adrian on what seems to be a nightly basis, celebrations, Elias at the lunar landing party, etc. I would stress the importance of not over-thinking this and simply seeing it for what it is. Alcohol is a temporary distraction from reality. The characters often engage in drinking with the intention of alleviating the pain of reality but typically it makes things worse and becomes the enabler of some sort of dramatic moment that has been building up. Eventually the alcohol wears off and reality returns, usually in a worse position than before.

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