Review: Bohemia Beach by Justine Ettler

Erich Mayer

Catherine drinks champagne, for when she’s trying not to get too drunk, and vodka, for when she’s seeking refuge from reality.
Review: Bohemia Beach by Justine Ettler

Book cover image of Bohemia Beach by Justine Ettler, published by Transit Lounge Publishing via Transit Lounge Publishing.

This novel is about Catherine Bell, a woman who became a world-famous concert pianist at a young age. But Catherine has problems. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she is an alcoholic, and she is addicted to unsuitable men.

Justine Ettler lets Catherine tell her story in the first person – and what a story it is!

Catherine says of herself, ‘I just never seem to get it right with guys; music’s the only thing I’ve ever been any bloody good at.’ But she underrates herself. She has many friends and acquaintances not all of whom have befriended her for her fame, and many of whom, in various ways, try to help her. She is a loveable, talented person who both does and doesn’t want to know what is wrong with herself and finds it hard to listen to good advice. Instead she takes refuge in unsuitable friendships and alcohol.

Much of the action takes place in Prague where Catherine wanders through streets familiar to anyone who has visited that beautiful city. She encounters aspects of the local culture that surprise her although she finds common ground with the Czechs in their love of Mahler, whom the Czechs claim as their own. (He was born in what was then Bohemia.)

Catherine’s preferred drinks are champagne, for when she’s trying not to get too drunk, and vodka, for when she’s seeking refuge from reality or needs a sturdy pair of hands for a concert performance. She does not like whiskey but will drink it if there is nothing better available. Surprisingly she does not like the local speciality, Becherovka, ‘which has me pulling faces as I drain the small bottle.'

Catherine has intermittent phone conversations with her therapist, Nelly, who tries with little success to get Catherine to stop drinking. Sometimes Catherine stops for a while but the challenge of a concert performance or a problem with a personal relationship are enough to bring on an irresistible urge for vodka. And yet, underneath it all, a part of Catherine wants to be healed.

What makes this book so remarkable is that we so intimately follow Catherine’s thought processes. We are with her when she makes love. We are there when she suffers a hangover or endures withdrawal symptoms. We participate in her conversations. We may even share the values of one of her lovers when he says, ‘perhaps we will be the ones to begin…the war to humanise capitalism? To make free market economies democratic again.'

In a sense the reader becomes Catherine, or at least identifies with her to the extent that reaching for a glass of wine while reading this book can engender a guilty conscience.

Back in England after a series of adventures in the Czech Republic, Catherine makes more than one effort at rehabilitation. The challenge is to overcome the PTSD and to stay sober. How Catherine succeeds and fails, and how she deals with her many problems, bring the book to an end.

There are many great novels that feature alcoholics among their main characters. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh and The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson are among them. Bohemia Beach deserves to be on the same bookshelf as these.


Bohemia Beach

By Justine Ettler

Published by Transit Lounge Publishing 

Format: ISBN: 978-1-925760-00-2

Release / Publication Date: 01 /05 /2018

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog