The Drinker

The Drinker



The Pequod Review:

Hans Fallada was a pseudonym for the German writer Rudolf Ditzen (1893-1947), who seems to have wanted to spare his parents the shame of his writings. His 1952 book The Drinker recounts the decline of Erwin Sommer from a life of conventional stability and professional success to alcoholism and his eventual incarceration in a psychiatric hospital. Narrated by Sommer in the first person, and partly based on Fallada’s own experiences as an alcoholic, the book is an intense psychological profile of Sommer’s self-destruction and self-delusion. Fallada’s remarkable prose effectively captures the foggy mix of bravado, confusion, and shame common to drug addicts. Here is Sommer early in the book charting the shift in his emotional reactions:

The first few times I still felt quite ashamed of our lack of restraint, and when I noticed that I had grieved Magda, that she was even going about with tear-stained eyes, it hurt me almost as much as it hurt her, and I swore that I would be better. But man gets used to anything, and I am afraid that perhaps he gets used quickest of all to living in a state of degradation. The day came when, at the sight of Magda’s red-rimmed eyes, I no longer swore to behave better. Instead with mingled satisfaction and surprise, I said to myself: “I gave it to you properly that time! You’re not going to get the upper hand of me always with that sharp tongue of yours!” It seemed horrible to feel that way, and yet it seemed right, it satisfied me to feel so, however paradoxical that may seem. From there, it was only a short step to the point when I consciously sought to hurt her.

This is a powerful and cautionary story of alcoholism and mental stability.