From The Sunday Times

January 7, 2007


Paperbacks: Pick of the week





by Edward St Aubyn

Trevor Lewis

TolstoyÕs epigram about families (all happy ones are alike, but each unhappy one is unhappy in its own way) seems tailor-made for the singularly wretched Melroses. St Aubyn scabrously chronicled the decline and fall of this profoundly dysfunctional upper-class brood in his acclaimed trilogy, Some Hope, and MotherÕs Milk, which was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker prize, picks up the story of their wastrel son, Patrick. Having suffered brutal childhood abuse by his father, survived industrial-sized quantities of narcotics in his twenties and been a brattishly disappointed thirtysomething, the sympathy-proof hero has hit the midlife buffers amid the wreckage of a marriage that is precariously accommodating his liquid breakfasts, Temazepam habit and infidelity. As the protagonist impotently observes the transference of his wifeÕs affections from himself to his newborn son, however, we are given a poignant reminder of the emotional nourishment denied him by his own mother. Even in her dementia, she is doggedly resolved to bequeath the last morsels of her sonÕs squandered inheritance — a chateau in Provence — to a wheedling new-age faker. Although St Aubyn takes a Jonsonian delight in satirically scourging the follies of charlatans and self-deceivers alike, beneath PatrickÕs acid-bath witticisms and sculptured asides (ŌThe past has all the time in the world. ItÕs only the future which is running outĶ) can be found a pointed study of the fault lines dividing families and a humane meditation on lives blighted by the sins of the previous generation. The authorÕs world-view is undeniably curdled, but he remains among the cream of British novelists