Some Hope. Patrick is now married, and has two children. The story starts as his older son, Robert, narrates the birth of Patrick's younger son, Thomas. Patrick and his wife, Mary, want to be sure that their children don't have the same damaged childhood that they had. Mary's dedication to Thomas in particular drives an enormous wedge between her and Patrick, leaving Patrick feeling like a twice deserted child.
I had expected Mother's Milk to be the story of Patrick's reunion with his mother, Eleanor, and in a way, it was. When we meet up with Eleanor, she is so feeble that even Patrick can't bring himself to unleash his anger at her. Eleanor has dedicated her intervening years to philanthropy, which in her case meant allowing a charlatan to take her money and her house in the south of France for a questionable foundation. Once again, she has left Patrick behind, even as she finds herself depending on him.
Patrick's children are incredibly precocious, and I wouldn't even believe that children like he describes could exist if I didn't know one myself. My niece, Jane, who is about to turn five would fit right in with the Melrose children. Toward the end of the book, Thomas, who is three at the time, says "Unfortunately . . .Beatrix Potter died a long time ago." This is exactly the type of thing that my niece knew and would inform adults of when she was three. He then goes on to tell a story that includes the sentence "And the ground opened up and California fell into the sea, which was not very convenient, as you can imagine." I can just see Jane telling that story! Thankfully she is being raised by more balanced parents than Patrick and Mary.
Mother's Milk is the fourth in St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose series, and it completes the collection, The Patrick Melrose Novels. I have spent my summer reading the earlier novels, Never Mind, Bad News and Some Hope, in between my book group assignments and industry requested reviews. While I was reading them, I came across this great review by Rachel Cooke. It talks a lot about St. Aubyn, and his relation to the Patrick Melrose character. One thing that I missed about the earlier novels while reading Mother's Milk was that few of the old characters were revisited. Patrick's close friend, Johnny is back, but hardly anyone else reappears. Julia is said to be one of Patrick's former girlfriends, but I don't remember reading about her in the earlier stories, and can't search for her name since I'm reading on paper.
The critics seem to have liked Mother's Milk much more than St. Aubyn's earlier novels. It was short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, and was a NYT Notable book for 2005. The collection, The Patrick Melrose Novels is a Big Fat Book, with 680 pages, and is also the last book that I needed to complete The Off the Shelf Challenge. I think that I under promised for that challenge by a little too much, seeing as it is only August. I will up my goal to 20 books this year, and hope that I will still be able to over deliver.
Next up: Next I'm going to read Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. I have been listening to it on CD for about three weeks now, and will get through it faster if I can also read a few pages at night.