Friday, July 27, 2012

Bad News

Bad News (1992) 164 pages in the omnibus edition of The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn (Picador, 2012) 

In the second book of the quintet, Bad News (Please see the review of the first book Never Mind), Patrick is now 22 years old and has gone to retrieve his father's recently deceased body from New York. As you can imagine, Patrick is a very unhappy, alienated young man. Here, he presages, a little bit, that other Patrick, an American, not a Brit, from American Psycho, not in the violent sadism of his actions but in the casual cruelty, alienation and the obsession with high end brands and looking good.

Patrick is hooked on Quaaludes, heroine, cocaine, alcohol. It's a very tough read. He is immensely unlikeable. And his wild thoughts while high are neither pleasant nor entertaining. I think if St. Aubyn is trying to give us a sense of Patrick's psychological state while high, he fails somewhat. Not so much that it is not effective but Patrick is so caustic, so misanthropic, that the reader is repelled by Patrick. Perhaps that is his goal?

Trolling for drugs from dealers in rough neighborhoods in New York, picking up women that he openly loathes in bars, merely tolerating the company of his father's friends while awaiting a flight back to England, surreptitiously coveting his girlfriend Debbie's friend Marianne ... all leave the reader wanting a quick shower after reading these passages. Patrick's self-loathing and, implicitly, the author's, are hard to take.

 Someone should advise the author that it is no longer acceptable to refer to someone as a "Chinaman" or a "negress", not the main character, but the author. Even twenty years ago that language was unacceptable. Then again, if he is racist (Patrick), he is also absolutely caustic and misanthropic towards everyone else - his girlfriend, her desirable friend, his father's sympathetic friends, and any poor soul he encounters in New York as he makes his way.

Unfortunately, the ending of both books fail to satisfy somewhat, perhaps because St. Aubyn saw this as part of a longer narrative in the quintet where the denouement may be down the road (we shall see); these endings, however, lack dramatic impact or resolution. But, I do admit, Patrick forgetting his father's ashes in the hotel until the last minute before he goes to the airport does give the reader a tiny scintilla of satisfaction. How rightful it would have been to have the old bastard's ashes thrown into the waste of New York.  

Soon to come: Some Hope the third book in the series.  

Edward St. Aubyn

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