Monday, May 14, 2012

I'll be taking the 5th now

Why on earth has it taken me this long to read the wonderful Patrick Melrose novels of Edward St. Aubyn? These novels, about the upperclass Melrose family, are just a delight to read. Knowing that the PM novels are semi-autobiographical, you almost feel sorry for St. Aubyn. It takes guts to write about these experiences. And boy does St. Aubyn have them guts by the dozen.

The first novel, Never Mind, isn't even about Patrick Melrose at all. Yes, we see Patrick as a 5 year old, and we read how he's sexually abused by his father, David, whom I think is the novel all about. David Melrose is an all-imposing figure, having very strong opinions about everything and prone to showing off just how influential he is to his son and to his wife, Eleanor.

After what Patrick goes through during his childhood, it's no wonder that we meet him next in the second novel, Bad News, as a drug addict. The novel happens within just a day, and it's fascinating to read about the drug-induced hallucinations of 22-year-old Patrick. Bad News now focuses on Patrick Melrose himself, who finds himself in New York to collect the body of his father. Patrick is so f****d up that he doesn't even care how his father died. He just wants to get his coke fix most of the time.

The third novel, which is my favorite, is Some Hope. Patrick is now in his early 30s and it seems that he's on his way to coming to terms with everything that's happened to him, even though the shadow of his father is still very much present in the novel. Some Hope has the most acidic humor and biting dialogue that I've read in novels recently. It's quite surprising to find out that the sister of the queen of England can be a big b***h. The English really have sarcasm and acerbic wit to an art.
     'And who are you?' she (Princess Margaret) asked Johnny in the most gracious possible manner.
     'Johnny Hall,' said Johnny, extending a hand.
     The republican omission of ma'am, and the thrusting and unacceptable invitation to a handshake, were enough to convince the Princess that Johnny was a man of no importance.
     'It must be funny having the same name as so many other people,' she speculated. 'I suppose there are hundreds of John Halls up and down the country.'
     'It teaches one to look for distinction elsewhere and not to rely on an accident of birth,' said Johnny casually.
     'That's where people go wrong,' said the Princess, compressing her lips, 'there is no accident in birth.'
     She swept on before Johnny had a chance to reply.

The Booker-shortlisted 4th novel, Mother's Milk, is where we meet Patrick as a husband and a father to 2 sons. Apparently, he's made good on his aim to become a barrister. Still, Patrick now grapples with the tedium of marriage and family as he finds himself involved in adultery and in not-so-good terms with his mother. Eleanor, who is now battling Alzheimer's in a nursing home, has decided to give their family house in the south of France to a New Age foundation. Mother's Milk is heavy on themes: euthanasia, parenthood, fidelity, and letting go.

It's too bad that my edition doesn't have the 5th and last novel of this cycle, which is At Last. I'm sure it would have the same beautiful writing, sharp wit, harrowing narative, and bitter humor that these 4 novels have. So dear reader, you now know what my next book purchase will be.

Read these novels if:
  1. You're fascinated with upperclass English families.
  2. You love semi-autobiographical fiction.
  3. You're into dysfunctional families.


Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This looks like a book I may need to save for fall... summer is a but of a change in reading style for me....more care free... the deep thinkers have to wait.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Sheila! I would love to read about the books you've lined up for summer.

Jack said...

How typically Princessonian. Long story, but through a chain of odd events, I grew up middle-class among the moneyed elite of San Diego. Invariably, the farther removed personally an individual was from the (usually) honest labor that had gone into the amassing of his own wealth, the more arrogant he was about it. Based upon your excerpt, I would estimate that Mr. St. Aubyn knows whereof he writes...

Peter S. said...

Hello, Jack! As always, I just love hearing about your thoughts. Yes, I would assume that too.

Stepford Mum said...

Peter, you'll certainly find that fifth book in Singapore. I'm sorry, I had to skim through your review as I've only read the first book myself. I will read it properly when I've gotten through the next few books and see if I feel the same way you do!

Dragonfly Daydreams said...

Thanks for such an insightful and interesting review...makes me want to read these books right now!! But I wont, because I've just started Hilary Mantel's latest book Bring Up the Bodies...and I'm sooooooo excited to be back in that world I can barely think about anything else :-)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Stepford Mum! Unfortunately, Kinokuniya doesn't have the 5th book. Aiyo!

Hello, Dragonfly Daydreams! I have yet to read Wolf Hall although I already have a copy. I guess I have to read it now since the 2nd book's out!

sundersartwork said...

It is funny that people are fascinated with upper class English, in England we hate them. Their an anachronism and their parasites. Not so interesting ifyou think the taxes you pay support them for no reason other than their ancestors stole land. I like yoru passion for reading though, it really comes out in your reviews.

Peter S. said...

Hello, sunderartwork! Thank you! And thanks for sharing that bit about the English upperclass. I never knew that.