EDWARD ST AUBYN (1960-)
"I don't want to be haunted by other people's judgments when I'm writing, because it's quite hard enough dealing with my vicious, punitive superego."
Westminster School and Oxford University, where he read English and, he says, got the worst degree in his year.
Following university, St Aubyn read manuscripts for a publisher and wrote sketches for a Radio 3 arts programme.
Did you know?
A heroin addict at 16, St Aubyn attended his Oxford finals complete with a hidden stash of the drug and the empty tube of a Bic biro through which to snort it.
St Aubyn drew heavily on his own traumatic childhood for his semi-autobiographical trilogy, Some Hope, but his writing is a world away from the voyeuristic abuse narratives that pepper the bestseller lists. While the plot of Some Hope is undeniably shocking – five-year-old Patrick Melrose is raped by his father, neglected by his mother and grows up to become a heroin and cocaine addict - the material is always handled deftly, and relayed with caustic wit. Patrick’s story is viewed through the prism of the privileged world in which he moves – the dizzyingly decadent heights of the English upper classes – and it is here that St Aubyn's gift for social satire combines with his devastatingly sharp, deliciously elegant prose to produce what Edmund White has called a "Mars-eye view of the world". While Some Hope occasionally fell victim to a less than subtle characterisation of the obnoxious toffs who populate Melrose's world, Mother's Milk, St Aubyn's latest work (which is independent of the trilogy but also features Patrick Melrose), has been praised for its greater restraint and shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.
The Melrose trilogy, now reissued as a single volume, is a fine introduction to St Aubyn's cruel and caustic confessional. Mother's Milk is a standalone volume which takes up the story of the middle-aged Patrick Melrose as a husband, father and barrister, and details his struggle with those roles as he deals with the legacy of his father's abuse and his now Alzheimer-suffering mother's determination to give away the family inheritance to a new age charlatan.
The humour and insight of Evelyn Waugh can certainly be detected in St Aubyn's work.
Now read on
Try Alan Hollinghurst's Booker-winning Line of Beauty for its subtle, and often mischevious, exploration of the nuances of the English class, and Snobs by Julian Fellowes for a somewhat less subtle study of the same. John Updike’s Rabbit series, in which Updike describes the struggles of Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom in clear, candid prose, may also appeal.