Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Patrick Melrose Novels

This is a little premature since I've only just read the first four of these books but that was because my edition--seen below--contains just the first four. If I had the fifth book (and, according to author Edward St. Aubyn, the last in the series), then I'd be reading it right now and not writing this. Yes, they are that good. Terrifying, philosophical, witty, touching, all of those things. How can they be so funny and also so horrifying? How can they be so cruel and also compassionate?

The semi-autobiographical books chronicle the life of Patrick Melrose, born into an aristocratic family. The first novel, Never Mind, covers the twenty-four hours in the five-year-old Patrick's life when he is first raped by his father. There is a lot of humor in this novel. Bad News takes place while a self-destructive heroin-addicted Patrick flies to New York to claim his father's body. Some Hope, the funniest of the novels, takes place at a country house party, and Mother's Milk, arguably the best of the lot, covers a succession of August holidays, in and out of the perspectives of Patrick's wife and two boys, the remarkable, unprecedented creations of Robert and Thomas.

What is really amazing about what St. Aubyn has done is just how specific the novels are to his own experience, to the traumas of rape and addiction, but also how universal the books are. That makes them sound sentimental. They are not. But they are constantly exploring the notion of identity and human experience in remarkable and sometimes terrifying ways.

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