Let me open this review by saying that I don’t follow Australian politics, I don’t generally like most Australian literature and I definitely don’t know much about Australian history. The reasons for all of these things are many and complex and this is not the forum to explore my gnawing distaste. But, understanding this does shed some light on why my choice in wanting to read this memoir is so unusual. I am not quite sure what appealed to me … whether it was just the picture on the cover (what an unusual looking gentleman!) or the subtitle: An Alcoholic’s Journey or perhaps the review that I read which indicated the enormous strength of character that was required for this man to write this book. Nonetheless, I was inspired to read this book and overjoyed when I discovered it at the library. Yay for the public library!!
I have not been disappointed. Fitzgerald’s writing is magnificent. I am dumbstruck by what must be his clear brilliance, his stamina and his ability to gain clarity through the darkest mist. Reading this book has been like entering into a complex maze and trying to understand something that simply does not exist. It is hard to explain. At times I feel as though Fitzgerald is writing with clarity and at other times I am confused and confounded by the lack of structure or perhaps his ability to maintain a thought and complete it. I can only think that this must be the nature of his beast.
While his life is clearly fascinating in and of itself – who he meets, what he does and accomplishes – what this book is really about is the significance of Fitzgerald’s journey through addiction. I was particularly taken by the fact that he credits his alcoholism as saving his life – if he hadn’t drunk he would have committed suicide, he says. There is a stark wonder in this revelation and it is a credit to him that he can see the value in the experience.
Fitzgerald’s life is heavy and the stories that he tells in this memoir are mostly depressing and equally weighed down with portent. His moments of joy and light are few and far between and many (if not most) of his central relationships are plagued with tragedy and/or despair. But, reading this book has, in and of itself, not been depressed. Fitzgerald is grateful that he is alive, thankful that he has had all these experiences and indebted, publicly, to so many people. One cannot help but be inspired.
Without doubt a fascinating individual who has made incredible contributions, not just to politics and academia in general, to the people around him too.