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Wasted: A Story of Alcohol, Grief and a Death in Brisbane

Wasted: A Story of Alcohol, Grief and a Death in Brisbane 2

Longlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize

by Elspeth Muir
Publication Date: 30/05/2016
4/5 Rating 2 Reviews
RRP  $29.99 $24.25
I don’t know why it was so important that there was alcohol, always. To go without just seemed to not be an option. Without it, I would rub up against the elements of the world, and chafe and blister. With it, everything was softer, easier.

In 2009 Elspeth Muir's youngest brother finished his last university exam and went out with some mates to get drunk. Later that night he wandered to the Story Bridge. He put his phone, wallet, T-shirt and thongs on the walkway, climbed over the railing, and jumped thirty metres into the Brisbane River below.

Three days passed before police divers pulled his body out of the water. When Alexander had drowned, his blood-alcohol reading was almost 0.3 - almost five times the legal limit for driving.

Why do some of us drink so much, and what happens when we do? Fewer young Australians are drinking heavily, but the rates of alcohol abuse and associated problems - from blackouts to sexual assaults and one-punch killings - are undiminished.

Intimate and beautifully told, Wasted mixes memoir with reportage to illuminate the sorrows, and the joys, of drinking.

Muir traces her own history with the bottle. She speaks with the father of a boy who died in a drunken attack, and returns to Schoolies on the Gold Coast. And she tries to make sense of her much-loved brother's death.

This book features in our Best Books of 2016 (so far)

Publication Date:
The Text Publishing Company
Elspeth Muir

Elspeth Muir is a Brisbane author whose writing has appeared in the Lifted Brow, The Best of the Lifted Brow: Volume One, Griffith Review, Voiceworks and Bumf. She is a postgraduate student at the University of Queensland.

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  • Wasted-Elspeth Muir

    by on

    Tragically sad and raw. Such a true representation of how alcohol and life is in Australia. Simply written and relatable.

  • honest, thought-provoking and very moving,

    by on

    “I wish he hadn’t had the opportunity, liquored up and full of bravado, or sadness, or whatever he was feeling, to fly off the side of the bridge. Because, although I always knew in theory that the inexplicable, untimely death of someone I loved unreservedly would be awful, what was impossible to know until it actually happened was that afterwards there would no longer be a time when I was not a little bit sad. And that my sadness would not be noble and acute – it would be dull, empty, endless, selfish, angry and irritating”

    Wasted is the first book by Australian author, Elspeth Muir. Very early one morning, shortly before his twenty-first birthday, Alexander Muir drowned after jumping off Brisbane’s Story Street Bridge. His blood alcohol level was slightly less than five times the legal limit for driving. Muir examines this senseless loss of this life from the perspective of a sibling who has her own intimate knowledge of the effects, both positive and negative, of drinking too much.

    “I don’t know why it was so important that there was alcohol, always. To go without just seemed not to be an option. Without it, I would rub up against the elements of the world, and chafe and blister. With it, everything was softer, easier. You had a drink and you slid into nonchalance and from there into conversations and new situations and adventures and forgetfulness”

    Muir examines the drinking culture that seems to be the norm in Australia: her shared personal experience give the narrative a validity that an impartial observer might not achieve. “I didn’t think about alcohol, the way I didn’t think about eating or breathing. It was just an essential part of existence. Drugs were big colours – hard ink blots on otherwise pastel routines – while alcohol was everyday”.

    Muir looks at alcohol as a factor in sexual assault, in violence, and in accidental death. She considers both sides of the argument over restriction of licencing laws, even speculating on what her brother might have felt about the subject, but concludes: “…alcohol is not an ordinary commodity…. trying to contain its effects at the time of consumption is less messy than dealing with them afterwards, even if harm-prevention measures somewhat constrain our access to aesthetic or sensual pleasure”

    Recalling an earlier incident Alexander had with the Brisbane river, Muir says “When I am maudlin, I imagine the long, dirty, licking river, which coils like a snake on hot sand through fatty suburbs along its waterline, tasted my brother that morning, but was thwarted before it could suck him right in. It waited a year, watching, flicking its sunlit scales, laying open the promise of soft depths on dark evenings; then, early one morning, his curiosity drove him close again, and it ate him.

    When I am not maudlin, I know he was not the victim of an animistic river, and that his death, by drowning, was not foreshadowed by his love of water except that it explains why he was near a river alone, with a blood-alcohol content of almost 0.25. My brother died because he was drunk, and because the drink made him stupid”

    Text have enclosed this outstanding book in a beautiful cover by Chong Weng Ho. Muir’s memoir is honest, thought-provoking and very moving, and this book should be compulsory reading for everyone who drinks to excess on a regular (or even on an occasional) basis.