You may remember I bought Edward St. Aubyn’s trilogy Some Hope, containing the novels Never Mind, Bad News and Some Hope, months ago. What with all the moving and upheaval and the new job I only got around to reading it last week. I was absolutely blown away.
Some Hope is largely autobiographical and the character of Patrick Melrose is Edward St. Aubyn‘s alter ego. When we first meet him in Never Mind he is five years old. In common with the rest of the books, Never Mind takes place over the course of a couple of days, in this instance at a country house in the south of France where the Melroses are giving a dinner party. We are introduced to Patrick, an intelligent and anxious young boy, his father David who is a sadistic and thoroughly repulsive man, and his mother Eleanor, a lonely alcoholic. In Bad News, Patrick Melrose is twenty two and a full blown drug addict, in reaction to his unhappy and abusive childhood. In this novel he travels to New York to bring home the ashes of his father who has just died, and he descends into a spectacular drug binge in his hotel. In Some Hope, Patrick is thirty years old, a recovering addict and finally ready to open up and discuss the issues that have plagued him since childhood.
The style of writing appropriately changes from book to book. Never Mind is a taut, finely detailed piece of writing, with a slightly innocent feel, but with a malevolent undercurrent of tension. One particular scene between Patrick and his father is told from Patrick’s point of view, simplistic yet horrific, leaving me in tears at the end of it. Some Hope is a little bit like Waugh or Mitford with its savagely funny descriptions of aristocrats at leisure. But by far my favourite of the trilogy was Bad News. It contains a flood of gorgeous prose which gathers pace as Patrick’s drug binge escalates. I found myself wincing at the descriptions of Patrick trying to find a useable vein in his bruised and scarred arms, and the graphic depictions of shooting up heroin. It comes as no surprise that he overdoses on a number of occasions. By far the stand out scene in Bad News is where Patrick shoots speedballs for an entire night in The Pierre Hotel in New York. A multitude of characters and voices appear in the text, all figments of Patrick’s imagination, speaking gibberish and commenting on Patrick’s behaviour as he spirals downwards consuming more drugs than one would think humanly possible. It’s a brilliantly written scene and for this alone St. Aubyn deserves kudos.
I loved the trilogy and am looking forward to reading more of St. Aubyn’s work in the not too distant future.