Never Mind is the first of the Patrick Melrose novels, a copy of which I was thrilled to discover our library actually owned. (What? Amongst all the Nora Roberts novels there could be found a work of true literature?!) I have been savoring Edward St. Aubyn’s writing, taking all day to read Never Mind which is a mere 127 pages.
St. Aubyn is my age, only one year older, and perhaps that is part of why his writing resonates so deeply within me. Read this bit of Patrick’s childhood, which is what Never Mind centers round:
“Patrick walked towards the well. In his hand he carried a grey plastic sword with a gold handle, and swished it at the pink flowers of the valerian plants that grew out of the terrace wall. When there was a snail on one of the fennel stems, he sliced his sword down the stalk and made it fall off. If he killed a snail he had to stamp on it quickly and then run away, because it went all squishy like blowing your nose. Then he would go back and have a look at the broken brown shell stuck in the soft grey flesh, and would wish he hadn’t done it. It wasn’t fair to squash the snails after it rained because they came out to play, bathing in the pools under the dripping leaves and stretching out their horns. When he touched their horns they darted back and his hand darted back as well. For snails he was like a grown-up.” (p. 14)
Lest this passage of a five year old’s play seems idyllic, as it did at first to me, we come to recognize that his childhood is anything but pleasant. His father, David, is abusive both verbally and physically; he is a tyrant of a man who seems to find pleasure in bullying not only his small family, but whatever friends they have who come round as Victor so aptly pointed out to Anne:
“Read the chapters on Nero and Caligula,” Victor suggested, “I’m sure they’re David’s favourites. One illustrates what happens when you combine a mediocre artistic talent with absolute power. The other shows how nearly inevitable it is for those who have been terrified to become terrifying, once they have the opportunity.” (p. 89)
As for Patrick’s mother, she has become so humiliated in her efforts to please her husband that she now is practically paralyzed to say or do anything contrary to his wishes. Even defending her son becomes impossible for her to do.
Eleanor marvelled at how well her son had turned out. Perhaps people were just born one way or another and the main thing was not to interfere too much. (p. 93)
No matter how many justifications she tries to make, how many excuses she can conjure up, the fact remains that she is as terrible a mother as David is a father, and it is no wonder to me that when the second novel opens up, Patrick has become a heroin addict.
While all the story line here seems dreadfully depressing, and I suppose it is, the writing is sublime. Edward St. Aubyn does a masterful job at pointing out, with great satire, the flaws of the British upper classes. Which seem applicable to any set of people who are consumed with status, wealth, image and beauty, while trying to cover up addictions, perversions, and more insecurities than any psychoanalyst could identify in a single session.
I’m beginning Bad News tonight, which I will follow with Some Hope, then Mother’s Milk. These are the first four of the Patrick Melrose novels, and Picador will release the fifth one entitled At Last on April 12, 2013.