“Oh demon alcohol, sad memories I cannot recall.”
— “Alcohol” by The Kinks, from the album “Muswell Hillbillies” (1971)
Two recent books reminded me of that song lyric by The Kinks. These books depict how excessive alcohol consumption can exact a heavy toll on relationships. By an odd coincidence both books were written by women who are married to celebrities. The similarities end there.
“Babysitting George: The Last Days of a Soccer Icon” by Celia Walden (Bloomsbury, 255 pages, $16)
George Best was an international soccer superstar during the late 1960s. When he was a mere 17 years old Best made the roster of the English club Manchester United. He went on to become the biggest star on a team that was loaded with them.
Best was a brilliant scorer and so good looking that the tabloids referred to him as “the fifth Beatle.” Fame was hazardous to his health. Best partied hard. By 2003 he was a mere shadow of his former self. Alcohol had laid waste to his liver and his womanizing was shattering his marriage. The paparazzi still followed him around.
Celia Walden was a newspaper reporter. Her editor gave her an assignment; find George Best: “he’s currently in Malta drinking his way through Sliema, with reporters from every newspaper but ours in tow. It’s only a matter of time before he decides to turn one of them into his boozing partner and gives them the exclusive he is contractually obliged to reserve for us.”
Walden’s reaction: “George Best. He was talking about George Best — the drunken, clapped-out footballer. Best had a ghostwritten, jauntily upbeat Sunday column in our paper reflecting his life after a controversial liver transplant. With little interest in footballers or alcoholics and still less curiosity for the travails of an alcoholic former footballer, I had never read it.”
She found Best and shadowed him for months. Walden was intrigued by his rambunctious and frustrating behaviour. “Babysitting George” reveals a man surging headlong toward a sad ending. Even in the depths of his dissipation Best does flash the occasional glimpse of his former charisma and bravado.
The author, Walden, is married to the TV personality Piers Morgan.
“The Good House” by Ann Leary (St. Martin’s Press, 293 pages, $24.99)
Ann Leary’s latest novel, “The Good House,” is narrated by Hildy Good, a successful real estate agent in a scenic oceanfront community in Massachusetts. Hildy is a divorcee in her 60s. She has two grown daughters.
Hildy grew up in the town and she knows everybody and just about everything that goes on around there. Late at night Hildy enjoys a glass or three of wine. She really likes her wine. She often drinks by herself and doesn’t feel that she has a drinking problem. As far as she is concerned her drinking is nobody’s business but her own.
Her daughters think otherwise. They have intervened once already. Hildy went through a treatment program. The message hadn’t taken. She still drinks, and she has scary blackouts.
“The Good House” tracks Hildy’s progression to the acceptance that she should stop drinking. This realization is the culmination of a series of misadventures. This story is peopled with some troubled characters along with that special guy who truly loves her. This is a ripping good read.
The author is married to Denis Leary, the actor and comedian.