Hope Stings Eternal
Five novels about toxic family dynamics and England's decadent upper crust
A Novel (Patrick Melrose)
by Edward St. Aubyn
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$25.00 List Price
In his debut novel, Never Mind, published in 1992, the English writer Edward St. Aubyn pokes fun at one of his creations, a distinguished philosopher modeled loosely on A. J. Ayer: "Just as a novelist may sometimes wonder why he invents characters who do not exist and makes them do things which do not matter, so a philosopher may wonder why he invents cases that cannot occur in order to determine what must be the case." The slight tone of meta-ness struck here is misleading; there is virtually nothing in Never Mind—or in the four other highly entertaining and often devastatingly dark, devastatingly funny works that make up St. Aubyn's marvelous Patrick Melrose series—that so much as flirts with anything other than the traditional novel. Yet there is an unusual intimacy of author to character in the Melrose saga, and the sense of St. Aubyn's proximity to the nasty toffs encountered in each installment is indeed what gives these books their particular punch. A brew of romans à clef set amid a sparklingly decadent upper-crust English background, the five novels are a mordant portrait of a class that St. Aubyn loathes but is undeniably his own. He is so deft a self-informant of that tribe of titled snobs and landed sadists that one imagines at times he might just as well have dispensed with the names of these novels and issued them under the inspired pair of titles Ayer used for his memoirs: Part of My Life and More of My Life.
While St. Aubyn may lack Ayer's knack for truth in advertising, the titles of his first four Melrose books mirror in an understated