London Review Of Books (www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n21/print/wood02_.html)

Bastards

James Wood

Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn Š Picador, 279 pp, £12.99

Can you always count on a bastard for a fancy prose style? It is hard to imagine the fiction of Edward St Aubyn stripped of the cool silver of its style. I am not accusing St Aubyn of being a bastard; I mean that he writes very well about bastards, and that both their contempt for the world and St Aubyn’s contempt for them find their best expression in a certain kind of intelligent, frozen stylishness. His upper-class snobs, perverts, tyrants, addicts and solipsists speak aphoristically, amusingly, cleverly, disdainfully; and the high polish of St Aubyn’s own prose is almost indistinguishable from theirs. Evelyn Waugh is often invoked by reviewers of St Aubyn, but Jane Austen and Henry James might be equal influences, the Austen and James whose drawing-room performers are in some ways inseparable, stylistically at least, from the authors’ own performances.