British Idle Class a/k/a Amusing Savages

15 Feb


I have been meaning to read Edward St. Aubyn since 2006 when Open City published the 4th of what are currently published in one volume entitled the The Patrick Melrose Novels: (Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother’s Milk) (Picador). But as these things go hundreds of books intervened. I noticed that Francine Prose has written intelligently commending St Aubyn’s latest tome At Last (FSG) which is asserted to be the culminating novel in this series. She mentions At Last’s predecessors

… “The Patrick Melrose Novels,” can be read as the navigational charts of a mariner desperate not to end up in the wretched harbor from which he embarked on a voyage that has led in and out of heroin addiction, alcoholism, marital infidelity and a range of behaviors for which the term “self-destructive” is the mildest of euphemisms. For fans of the Melrose cycle, “At Last,” which is set on the day of Eleanor’s funeral, provides some of the exultation and relief of watching that sailor, so often nearly drowned, bob, gasping, to the surface.

And adds:

It’s possible to read “At Last” without being familiar with the earlier novels, but that would be a bit like paging straight to “Time Regained” and skipping the rest of Proust…

Personally, having a choice, with both volumes in hand, I opted to read the precendent Melrose novels first. And every commendation that Prose heaps on St. Aubyn is present—dark, savage brilliant humor. With every page fill of unerringly accurate prose and unlikely tidbits of hilarity and farce.Here Anne, an American journalist converses with Victor, a British philosopher, her lover of the past year:

Victor looked uneasy.”Were you insulting each other in the car, or just attacking David and me?”
“Neither, but the way that everyone else was insulted I knew that we would break off into smaller and smaller combinations until everyone had been dealt with by everyone else.
“But that’s what charm is: being malicious about everyone except the person you are with, who then glows with the privilege of exemption
“if that’s what charm is,” said Anne, “it broke down in this occasion , because I felt no one of us were exempt.”
“Do you wish to confirm your own theory by saying something nasty about one of your fellow dinner guests?”
“Well now that you mention it,” said Anne laughing, “I thought that Nicholas Pratt was a total creep.”
“I know what you mean. His problem is that he wanted to go into politics,” Victor explained, “but was destroyed by what passed as a sex scandal some years ago and would probably now be called an “open marriage” Most people wait until they become ministers before they ruin their political careers with a sex scandal, but Nicholas managed to do it when he was still trying to impress Central Office by contesting a by election in a safe Labor seat.”
“Precocious,huh?” said Anne,”What exactly did he do to deserve his exile from paradise?”
“He was found in bed with two women he was not married to by the woman he was married to, and she decided not to stand by his side.”
“Sounds like there wasn’t any room, said Anne, “but like you say, it was a case of band timing.Back in those days you couldn’t go on television and say how it was a “really liberating experience.”

Actually I am more than a bit surprised that this mordant vivisection of the British upper classes is so captivating but take that a salute to Edward St Aubyn’s brilliance. In the spirit of audacity (which is often better conceived of that executed) that marks any number of the creatures that inhabit the Melrose cycle, I was tempted to include the only video interview with Edward St. Aubyn that I could find, which happens to be in French but I am opting for this British Broadcasting Corp. recording


Currently reading Poison Flower by Thomas Perry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

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