It is rare to open a British newspaper these days without finding an article about the "binge drinking epidemic". I'll admit to a certain degree of scepticism about this: not a question that it is happening – visit any town centre on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night and it will be obvious – but that there's anything very new about it. Visitors to Britain have been commenting on the locals propensity to take alcoholic consumption to excess, without much apparent pleasure, for many centuries.
But perhaps there are some changes – women from all classes are now prepared to get unashamedly drunk, where once it would have been a shame, at least to the middle class and the "respectable" working class. Tania Glyde in her new memoir, Cleaning Up: How I Gave Up Drinking and Lived, identifies herself as a victim of this trend, and is being promoted as offering a key to understanding the "epidemic".
Yet this is very much a personal memoir, the tale of an ordinarily psychologically abusive childhood, followed by encounters with the analyst profession in many guises, a succession of damaging, rather pointless relationships, and lots of getting drunk and drugged. It feels like following a train wreck, and yet in many ways it is pretty ordinary.
A great many girls and young women use alcohol to try to deal with the awkwardness of social and sexual encounters, through their teens and twenties. And that Glyde continued, and spiralled, seems to be the product of what we know is an illness, alcoholism, which has strong genetic roots. Her propensity to try to live her life through a man can't have helped either.
She intersperses her personal tale with rather prosaic "analytical" chapters. There's "eighteen warning signs", including "6. panic (pre-party) … It just didn't feel right to be dressed up and on my way out somewhere, which would inevitably involve playing the part of somebody, without a decent dose of win inside me." And "eleven excuses", such as "7. I'm creative. Creative people need to drink."
Curiously, despite Glyde's background as a sex columnist and general groover there's a distinctly Daily Mail tone – the idea being that a social demand women be strong, professional and independent is somehow making them fall apart. And her views on rape are horrifying: "Logic says that if you're going to drink yourself into such a trance-like state that you really have no idea of what is happening to you, it's best to stay in the vicinity of home, or at least surround yourself with about fifty friends."
Yet I am perhaps enough of a female reviewer to feel uncomfortable about writing critically about a memoir that is obviously a cry from a heart, so I feel the need to say that I'm criticising the book as such – how Glyde has chosen to live her life is entirely her business. But I don't think many will find this book a useful guide for how to live their's – even as a cautionary tale.