It would be easy to look at the title of this book and put it down thinking it’s another academic waxing lyrical about the evils of alcohol, couching it in self-help terms and a preachy tone.
Wasted is a book that every New Zealander and Australian needs to read because realistically anyone of us could find ourselves in the same position as Elspeth Muir or the many people attending her brother’s funeral in the opening scene of the book.
What starts as a personal story turns into an examination of the current drinking culture in NZ and Australia. Muir’s youngest brother Alexander was 21. He’d finished his uni exams that day and gone out celebrating like he’d done a hundred times before. He got wasted like he usually did, except on this particular night he jumped off a bridge into a river and drowned.
What follows is one woman taking a long hard look at her brother’s life and how many warning signs of problem drinking are considered normal by everyday standards. Binge drinking, blackouts, belligerence when drunk, mood swings, unusual choices… You might not tick all but you’ve probably ticked some. Wasted is a sobering look at just how dependent we are as nations on alcohol. Economically, socially, and psychologically. It’s part of our nation’s identity woven through so many pivotal life events, on both sides of the Tasman.
More impressive still, is that Muir never lets you forget that Alex was a real person. Her brother. He has parents, siblings, friends, lovers. People that still miss him every day, people that still wonder why that night was different. People that still hurt. It’s that bittersweet quality to Muir’s writing that makes Wasted something special, something more than a misery memoir or an academic text on how we should live.
If I had my way, I’d give this to everyone in their last year of high school, and their parents too.
Reviewed by Sarah McMullan
Wasted: A story of alcohol, grief and a death in Brisbane
by Elspeth Muir ****
Published by Text Publishing