The Patrick Melrose Novels, by Edward St. Aubyn
Edward St. Aubyn’s four novels, Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother’s Milk, collected in a single volume in 2012, are so brilliant it’s unimaginable that any reader (or writer) for whom words are the coin of the realm would elect not to read them. It’s not just the startling story line of its titular character, which follows Patrick from childbirth through drug addiction, marriage, and the death of his monstrous father and oblivious mother, but St. Aubyn’s prose itself. His language—elaborate, crystalline sentences—unwind with perfect order and disquieting depth. Think Proust, under the searing light of an inquisitor’s lamp.
Take for instance this description of New York, as the “flag-strewn mineral crevasses of mid-town Manhattan.” Or, if your tastes run to a more natural setting, the scene outside narrator’s ancestral home in the south of France on a moonlit night, where Patrick and a friend gaze up to the sky to find “a sky bleached of stars by the violence of the moon.” The word “squeak” is not one you’d think to find in a high tone work of literary brilliance, but there it is, in the setting of a hospital room: “a nurse squeaked in with a trolley of food.”
St. Aubyn knows what to do with words, and that is to subvert them, place them where they’re least expected, and most unsettling. I’m looking at his lines as though under a magnifying lens, but that is one of the pleasures of the extraordinary series. The story of Patrick Melrose, as you’ll see, is the proverbial icing on the cake.
Read James Woods’ on Edward St. Aubyn here.