Saturday, July 7, 2012

Never Mind

Never Mind (1992) in the omnibus edition of The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn (Picador, 2012) 

Edward St. Aubyn has a vitriolic but eloquent disdain for the British upper class that he is eager to impart to his readers. His contempt is not confined to the aristocracy, that he captures so brilliantly, but also the wannabes and hangers-on that populate his novels.

His contempt seems well founded. They are (variously, as they are portrayed here) vain, snobbish, obsequious towards their "superiors" and contemptuous towards their "inferiors". They are alcoholic, promiscuous, mooching, impossibly self-obsessed. Virtually, only the five year old Patrick Melrose, the main character who is loosely based on St. Aubyn himself, remains pure, tainted only by this father's horrendous abuse and his mother's maternal incompetence.

When David Melrose, Patrick's father, meets his prospective bride Eleanor we immediately understand the parameters of their relationship when he requests that she eat the Moroccan chicken he has lovingly prepared as if she were a dog ... no cutlery, no hands, on all fours, on the floor. The pattern of dominance/submission is set. It's an absolutely chilling scene.

This is a nasty trick he repeats when he compels Eleanor to consume all the fallen figs from a tree on their property that she has mildly complained are being wasted. Thus, we meet Patrick Melrose's parents.

But David's cruelty is not restricted to Eleanor. Even more explicit horrors await little Patrick. David approaches Patrick as if he is a subject in a scientific experiment, exhibiting sadistic, and horrifically immoral, behavior to see how much the little boy can take before he breaks. 
Edward St. Aubyn
Eleanor, completely subjugated, alcoholic, addicted to pain-killers, watches helplessly from the sidelines, unaware, or unable, to act.

The circle of "friends" who surround the Melroses (Victor Eisen and Anne Moore, Nicholas Pratt and Bridget Watson-Scott) who have gathered for an informal dinner at the Melrose home appear to not so secretly despise the Melroses, their own partners and even themselves. And who can blame them? They cheat on each other, suck up to the monstrous David to enjoy the luxuries of his home, gossip about Eleanor's alcoholism and subjugation even while they enjoy the fruits of her inherited wealth.

One other person comes off fairly well in the novel, his mother Eleanor's friend Anne Moore who tries to console the wretched boy after he tumbles down the stairs and cuts himself. He remains marooned on the stairwell outside the party waiting for his mother to appear (she does not). A sympathetic Anne resurfaces in the next book to console Patrick about his father's death. 

If the author sounds wounded and bitter it's likely because he is. Much of the material regarding Patrick's early experiences is said to be autobiographical.

The language is beautiful and St. Aubyn displays wit and sharp insight into his class but the story feels abbreviated and open-ended. Perhaps St. Aubyn already envisioned the four novels that were to follow?

On to the next book in the quintet called Bad News ... look for the review shortly. 

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