Thursday, June 20, 2013

Patrick at 5

Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn is the first of five novels in his "Patrick Melrose" series.  The novels were originally published separately, but now the first four of them are available in one volume, called The Patrick Melrose Novels

In Never Mind, Patrick is 5 years old, and his parents, David and Eleanor, are hosting a dinner party.  The story begins early in the day when the preparations for the dinner are being made, and the guests are dreading the event.  Eleanor's drinking makes her an unstable host, and the women who will be attending know that they can't count on her for conversation, much less to keep control of the evening. 

The men who will be attending, Victor and Nicholas, seem to feel a strange admiration for David, which their girlfriends, Anne and Bridget, can't understand.  To the women, David is manipulative and creepy.  To the men, he is in control and certain of his decisions.

David, for his part, finds reason to lament that even at the best clubs, one "can't boast about homosexual, paedophiliac incest with any confidence of a favourable reception", leading me to conclude that the women are right.

The dinner party is painfully awkward.  The story ends with each person thinking about how the evening went, with a mixture of relief that it is over, and self loathing.  Even David, who feels no regret and is proud of his "audacity" is troubled by nightmares.

It's hard for me to imagine the reception that Never Mind must have gotten when it was released in 1992.  As a stand alone novel, it is pretty heavy.  Apart from a deplorable scene between David and Patrick, the story would make a great play.  But as I read the book in 2012, I know that there is more, and that the story doesn't end with the novel.  My understanding is that the next novel, Bad News, also came out in 1992, so even those reading when Never Mind was first released may have known that a sequel was on the way.  I'm not sure that if I read Never Mind, and then  had to wait a few months for Bad News to come out, that I would have gone out of my way to find it.  Now we know that the last two books, Mother's Milk and At Last got great reviews, so the series is likely to be worth the read.

Next Up:  The Simple Truth by Philip Levine

Still Listening to:  The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

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