Cape Town Calling (Tafelberg, 2006)
An extract from The Agony of Ecstasy was used in this new South African anthology of contemporary writing on ‘the mother city’ including international travel writers and much-loved locals such as JM Coetzee, Paul Theroux, Nelson Mandela, Rian Malan, Mamphela Ramphele and Pieter-Dirk Uys.
Bedford Square 3, an anthology of writing from my MA Creative Writing class, is published by John Murray (2007; £7.99). Here’s the blurb from the back. ‘In 2004 Poet Laureate Andrew Motion established a brand new creative writing course at Royal Holloway, University of London. Bedford Square 3 showcases the writers from the Class of 2007: smartly original and refreshingly varied, here are some of the most exciting new voices in contemporary writing.’
The Agony of Ecstasy (Continuum, £11.99) is the story of a young woman’s philosophical search for authentic happiness in a plastic modern world. It considers the nature of the experience of happiness, whether happiness is something which can be artificially induced, and whether chemically-created happiness is authentic.
‘In the tradition of literary drug-taking which stretches from Thomas de Quincy to Aldous Huxley and Hunter S. Thompson. It screams of teenage angst and the pressures to be cool, beautiful and self-possessed.’ The Times
‘A cool classic for the youth of the age. Fascinating…gripping…a work of spiritual literature in its extraordinary honesty and sensitivity and luminous voice, in its sharp, astute observation and rebellious tough-mindedness. I read it in a day, and felt it was a modern Pilgrim’s Progess.’ Sacvan Bercovitch
‘A thoughtful, sometimes brutally honest account. If you’ve ever wondered why young people take drugs, read The Agony of Ecstasy.’ The Oxford Times
‘From St John on the Cross onwards, religious, mystical and new age texts unanimously agreed that transcendence or entry to paradise must always be preceded by a long dark night of the soul. But that was before MDMA (Ecstasy). Olivia Gordon’s memoir of her time as a teenage raver in Cape Town in the late 90s, reverses that traditional narrative. On swallowing her first sixth of an ecstasy tablet all of her anxieties, inhibitions and ego dissolved to be replaced by feelings of, well, ecstasy. Ten pills later she suffered a six-month long bout of depression, which she followed with a prolonged period of enquiry into the nature of experience and a search for authentic feeling. That ecstasy makes people happy is incontrovertible, but it was that element of compulsion that disturbed her, revealing as it does that emotions are reducible to chemical reactions, “that humans really were just puppets with a master chemist pulling the strings.” Gordon had a hypersensitivity to MDMA that is uncommon, but the lack of understanding she received from friends and clinicians alike must still have been distressing. Her story will certainly be of comfort to anyone suffering a similar depression.’ Independent on Sunday
‘Captivating…While such a tale could have been an irritating story of self-destruction, Gordon’s smart enough to present her situation for what it was — innocent fun with inadvertently serious consequences. A welcome bit of sanity.’ The Calgary Herald
About The Agony of Ecstasy
When I was 23 I wrote a feature for the Evening Standard about my experience of taking Ecstasy as a naive 17-year-old: my contemporaries’ misguided search for philosophical understanding through the use of drugs, how taking Ecstasy made me depressed for six months, and how I then discovered real happiness (a cultured, gentle, sober grown-up world a million miles away from clubs, raves and class As, which I never went near again).
London/New York publisher Continuum then asked me if I would like to write a whole book about my story. So I did, and the book, The Agony of Ecstasy – a partly fictional memoir – was published in 2004, when I was 25. It was serialised in the Mail on Sunday’s YOU Magazine and I wrote for the Jewish Chronicle about Jews and drugs. I also did many interviews – my favourite was with Jenni Murray on BBC Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour.
As a journalist, I’ve been privileged to learn what it is like to be on the other side of the notebook, being asked personal questions and, occasionally, having your story sensationalised. I feel that this experience has helped me to become a sensitive and honourable journalist – something for which many people I’ve interviewed have thanked me. I hate to say this as a journalist, since most people in my trade try very hard not to sensationalise facts to make a good story, but my serious enquiry didn’t make a very saleable story for some parts of the media. They generally preferred a simplistic ‘drug/depression hell’ angle, and, looking back today, I’m taken aback by how many of the interviews and features done on my book – many still floating around on the web – added various inventions and inaccuracies to my story. You can read a good print interview with me here: Oxford Times