Intoxicated! A Novel of Money, Madness and the Invention of the World’s Favorite Soft Drink

Written by John Barlow
Review by Tess Allegra

Yorkshire, 1869. En route from France by train, Isaac Brookes nearly kicks a bunch of smelly rags out the door of his compartment only to find a hunchback dwarf within its folds. Enter Rodrigo Vermillion, con artist and inexhaustible devisor of marketing ploys. This bizarre synchronicity launches these two disparate men on an adventure that will revolutionize the world. And will give Victorians a new alternative to alcohol and tea: Rhubarilla!

This effervescent tale of the madness runs in parallel lines of reality and the surreal. Isaac’s weird encounter with the charismatic Rodrigo inspires him to retire from his wool factory in France and return to England, where he reunites with his two dysfunctional sons and kind but ailing wife, Sarah. As this strange family begins to fall apart fueled in part by drink, they also unite in a common goal: to discover the perfect soft drink. Obsessed with rhubarb as a main ingredient, they experiment with nuts and spices to cover the taste adding extract of coca-leaf to give it a “twist.” However, their success only explodes with the rise of the Temperance Movement, which puts Rhubarilla in top demand in Yorkshire and over in the United States.

Beneath the madcap tone of this exuberant tale runs a thread of life’s truths and families’ woes all bottled up in bizarre fashion. A great historical spoof from a highly imaginative writer.