Friday, 22 June 2012
A Year in Books 2012 - Never Mind , Bad News , Some Hope and Mother's Milk
Patrick Melrose comes from wealth has survived neglect from his mother , bullying and buggery from his father , drug addiction and alcoholism to reach a middle age of marriage , infidelity and children. He is the central character in a series of novels (the 5th and final part published this year) written by Edward St. Aubyn. The are supposedly partly autobiographical and I shudder to think which parts!
I've read the first 4 novels as one volume which i think was published in the UK. The books are short with only the 4th book going over 200 pages and not alot happens , but they are all totally compelling.
It is set in the unsympathetic world of the upper classes (pre Downtown Abbey a class that had dropped out of the literary / entertainment landscape) and populated with deeply unpleasant people. At times it odes feel like slowing down on the motorway to look at a car crash. However there is redemption and warmth as well as a perverse sense of hope. All this with some real laugh out loud moments to balance some horrific behaviour.
We first meet Patrick aged 5 living with his wealthy parents in France. The book focuses more on the monstrous father figure David and the emotionally shut down mother. We witness David's bullying and intimidation over the course of one weekend when the Melroses are giving a dinner party. The narrative switches between Patrick , his parent's and their guests , a technique that continues throughout the other books
Next up is Bad News and Patrick travels to New York to pick up his fathers Ashes. Again set over one weekend Patrick under takes a binge of excess with the descriptions of drug taking far more powerful than anything in Trainspotting. We follow Patrick, chasing score after score as he hurtles along a path of self destruction, whilst trying to come to terms with his relationship with his now deceased father.
Some Hope is the funniest of the books and this time a clean Patrick is a guest at a country house weekend birthday celebration. This has a wider cast of characters including guest of honour Princess Margaret through who St Aubyn wonderfully sends up the ridiculousness of the monarchy. It is a comedy of manners and of in breeding.
Mother's Milk sees Patrick now married with children but struggling with thoughts of infidelity as well as a mother who is determined to achieve assisted suicide whilst leaving the family home to a new age conman.
St Aubyn's grasp of his material never wavers through the 4 books and he somehow manages to keep snobbery , greed , cruelty and a complete disregard for morals , balanced with hope , a struggle to do the right thing, forgiveness and redemption
I've yet to read the 5th and final book (it is on the shelf) but I'm sure together they are one hell of a literary achievement
You can buy all of the Melrose books here. If you don't want to read them all then I'd go with Some Hope as a stand alone read, but you'll be missing out!
You can read some fascinating interviews with the author at his website here (it seems all the worst bits of the books are the parts that are autobiographical)