The Patrick Melrose novels written by Edward St. Aubyn are not to everyone’s taste. These novels aren’t a happy read and do not promise a rose garden, so to say. The Patrick Melrose novels are made of 4 novels – Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother’s Milk. The novels trace the English Upper Class through Patrick Melrose and his affluent family.
The four books made me think a lot and sometimes cringe as well while I was reading them. That is because Edward St. Aubyn has written a set of stories so believable that you almost recollect memories of people and times when you have encountered similar situations, may be through different people.
All books in the series take place over twenty-four hours and that is quite a feat for a writer. To be able to fit in everything – the plot, the emotions, the reactions and the thought-process over a given period in a book has always fascinated my sensibilities.
Never Mind – the first book, starts with Patrick at five-years old, being sexually abused by his demonic and narcissist father. The abuse also extends to Patrick’s American mother and at the end of the book; you are left feeling hopeless and angry.
The second book, Bad News, shows Patrick Melrose trying to face his own demons as he at 22, sets off to collect his father’s ashes from New York. Most of the second book is told in interior monologues which makes it both – interesting and confusing at times. Patrick in New York spends a drug-crazed twenty-fours and experiences life in a new form.
The third book, Some Hope reflects on Patrick’s life as a recovering addict. It depicts the possibility of him starting over. In this book, Edward gets us to see the other side of Patrick – the point when he is in-between sorting his life and wanting to start anew. The state of mind, emotions and thoughts are beautifully described in this book.
The fourth book in the series, Mother’s Milk is about Patrick as a parent. In this book, the focus is on Patrick’s mother who is plotting her own scheme of betrayal and hence the title. The series does not end here. There is a fifth book as well, “At Last” which I yet have to read and discover the magic of St Aubyn’s writing all over again.
Edward St Aubyn is not a writer that you take to instantly. His writing grows on you. The writing is vivid, sharp and painful, with the occasional brushes of humour. The Patrick Melrose novels are all about greed, decadence, amorality and the decline of a system of the aristocrats as observed through a person and his family. The story has to be read in order. One cannot skip a novel or read from anywhere. There is a lot of verbal power packed into these books, to the point that I had to read something funny to get back to these books. Like I said it isn’t meant for everyone, however if you do enjoy some serious fiction, then this is it for you.
Here are some quotes to give you an idea of his writing:
“It seems people spend the majority of their lives believing they’re dying, with the only consolation being that at one point they get to be right. ”
“Irony is the hardest addiction of all. Forget heroin. Just try giving up irony, the deep-down need to mean two things at once, to be in two places at once, not to be there for the catastrophe of a fixed meaning.”
“Perhaps all of his problems arose from using the wrong vocabulary, he thought, with a brief flush of excitement that enabled him to throw aside the bedcovers and contemplate getting up. He moved in a world in which the word “charity”, like a beautiful woman shadowed by her jealous husband, was invariably qualified by the words “lunch”, “committee”, or “ball”. “Compassion” nobody had any time for, whereas “leniency” made frequent appearances in the form of complaints about short prison sentences. Still, he knew that his difficulties were more fundamental than that.”