Book Review – ‘Alcoholic Betty’ by Elisabeth Horan

I purchased this book from the publisher.

Alcoholic Betty is confessional poetry at another level. In this collection, Elisabeth Horan bravely lays bare the dark side of alcohol dependence and exposes the nature of addiction, and how it impacted her sense of self and her relationships with everyone she loved. 

From the opening line – I never wanted to do this to you – it’s clear this book is not a flight of fancy. The poems go deep, charting a past of traumatic events and their triggering nature, capturing a young woman desperately searching for ways to numb her incredible pain. They don’t shy away from the most difficult and personal moments; the reader is shown assault, self-harm, institutionalisation and escapism. There are battles that end of the verge of victory, only for another wave of pain and grief to sweep the hard-won progress away. Horan’s poems journey into the heart of her darkness. She recalls the barbs of words said to her by family and friends, horrified by her distress but unable to see a way to get through to her. There is a visceral self-loathing in some of these works, but it is tempered by underlying pain and a desire to survive, to fight back. Through the final poems Elisabeth lights a candle and holds it high, reminding us that while recovery is an ongoing process, it is possible to emerge on the other side as a survivor. This delicate hope is a thing of beauty against the beginning of the book and leaves the reader with a sense of, if not resolution, then potential.

Elisabeth Horan is an accomplished poet and the works in this collection showcase her extensive skill. The sonnetype makes an appearance in ‘Soneto de Tomar’ as a striking bilingual piece. There are numerous examples of her prose specialty throughout which range from stream-of-consciousness to carefully structured miniature narratives. ‘I Bumble About like a Total Dick’ is an excellent example. Horan has previously discussed the influence of Emily Dickinson in her poetry and indeed Dickinson’s hallmarks loom large here; her slant rhyme and use of dashes make repeat appearances. Elisabeth also experiments with form and structure in ‘I Can’t Be’, using unconventional spacing and line breaks to emphasise the sense of brokenness. Throughout, rhyme and slant rhyme appear in unexpected places – sometimes against the ends of lines, sometimes floating in the middle, with enjambments to jolt the reader like a sharp turn on a rollercoaster.

This collection is not always easy to read – they’re the raw confessions of addiction and recovery, sometimes coming from the midnight hours. But beyond the confronting and devastating moments that appear and fade like ghosts, this book is Elisabeth Horan’s way of extending a hand to the reader and showing the way; that the fight, while never easy, is worth it. Alcoholic Betty is a gem for anyone who’s felt a need to numb their pain, or an uncertainty about finding a way through it.

Alcoholic Betty is available now from Fly On The Wall Press.

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