LitStaff Pick: The Best Books We Read This Year

The Patrick Melrose Novels, by Edward St. Aubyn

My pick is already a fixture of 2012 Best Of lists, so that makes this task even easier. Edward St. Aubyn’s series of four novels, Never Mind,” “Bad News,” “Some Hope,” and “Mother’s Milk,” having appeared separately over the past decade or so, and collected last year under the title of its main character, is of such brilliance it’s unimaginable that any reader (or writer) for whom words are the coin of the realm would pass it by. It’s not just the startling story line of its titular character, which follows him from childbirth through drug addiction and the death of his father, but St. Aubyn’s prose itself. His language takes the form of elaborate, crystalline sentences that unwind with perfect order and disquieting depth. Think Proust, under the searing light of heat lamp.

Take for instance this description of New York, seen 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— “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 effective. I’m focusing on minutiae here, looking at his lines as though under a magnifying lens, but that is one of the pleasures of the extraordinary series. The story, as you’ll see when you read it, is the proverbial icing on the cake.

Read James Woods’ on Edward St. Aubyn here.

-Lauren Alwan

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