At Last is the fifth — and, it’s pretty safe to say, most eagerly awaited — of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels.
At Last is the fifth — and, it’s pretty safe to say, most eagerly awaited — of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels. The first three, now called the Some Hope trilogy, took Patrick from an upper-class childhood where he was raped by his father from the age of five, through his understandably drug-addicted youth and on to the nervous beginnings of recovery at 30. Somehow, though, the result was a joy to read: full of dazzling phrase-making, terrific black comedy and stirringly vicious satire on the ghastly inhabitants of Patrick’s privileged world.
Not that this was widely noticed at the time — because when they came out in the 1990s the books earned what’s euphemistically known as ‘a cult following’. But then in 2006 came the unignorably brilliant Mother’s Milk, which reintroduced Patrick in middle age as a disappointed and increasingly drunken husband and father. Perhaps because it added a bit more warmth to the mix, it was both a commercial success and shortlisted for the Booker prize. All of which means that, for the first time, a large number of readers will be approaching a new St Aubyn novel with serious expectations — expectations, I fear, that may not be fully met.
At first, all is well. The opening pages see the welcome reappearance of Pratt, one of the most memorable of the trilogy’s ghastlies. Within minutes, Nicholas has characteristically savaged Picasso (‘that arch fake’), Edward and Mrs Simpson (‘those dimwits, the Windsors’) and his own estranged daughter (‘I blame her therapist, filling her never very brilliant little head with Freudian ideas’). Not far behind is Patrick’s ferociously snobbish Aunt Nancy, who, dwelling as ever on her gilded background, points out that ‘Mummy only had one car accident in her life, but even then, when she was hanging upside down … she had the Infanta of Spain dangling next to her.’