Friday, 1 August 2014

MOTHER'S MILK by Edward St Aubyn

This is a book that makes me almost look forward to my mid-life crisis, if it's as funny and insightful as this one.

The crisis in question belongs to a certain Patrick Melrose, and its unfolding is described across four year's worth of summer holidays. As he describes it: "He tried to remind himself what his youth had really been like, but all he could remember was the abundance of sex and the sense of potential greatness, replaced, as his view closed in on the present, by the disappearance of sex and the sense of wasted potential." On his daily life: "Most of the time, he couldn't even imagine the world from his own point of view. He relied on nightfall to give him a crash course in the real despair that underlay the stale, remote, patchily pleasurable days." I liked this very much. During unhappy periods, I always think it's key to remember that your day time view of your life is the real one, not your night time view; but he takes the opposite approach.

For a book on despair, it's hilariously funny. Patrick wants to have sex with everyone he sees, and here he is on a bikini clad woman he sees:
Oh God, why has life so badly organised? Why couldn't he just hoist her onto a hot car bonnet and tear off that turquoise excuse for a bikini bottom? She wanted it, he wanted it. Well, anyway, he wanted it. She probably wanted exactly what she had, the power to disturb every homosexual man - and let's not forget our lesbian colleagues, he added with mayoral unction - who she scythed through as she strolled back and forth between her depressing boyfriend and her nippy little car. She walked by, he staggered on. She might as well have choppped off his genitals and chucked them in the sand. He could feel the blood running down his legs, hear the dogs squabbling over the unexpected meat. He wanted to sit down again, to lie down, to bury himself deep underground.

One source of his despair is the fact that he feels abandoned by his wife, who is entirely focused on their two small children. I found this deeply irritating. If you feel your wife is doing too much parenting, how about DOING SOME PARENTING YOURSELF. However the wife is also very irritating, being rather brainless. "As she hoisted (the baby) into her arms, she felt again the extent to which motherhood had destroyed her solitude. . . . Now she was very rarely alone, and if she was, her thoughts were commandeered by her family obligations. Neglected meanings piled up like unopened letters. She knew they contained ever more threatening reminders that her life was unexamined." However, the author makes an interesting point in her defense: " . . . she was trying to survive the ceaseless demands of her sons, and the destructive effect on a solitary nature of spending years without a moment of solitude." I've often wondered how solitary parents feel about the amount of time they spend with their children.

I did have some minor quibbles. It's very much a book of the British upper class, so it's as narrow as that group, with friends with who were "on the same stair at Trinity," and people who "Without the editorial influence of the word 'afford,' their desires rambled on like unstoppable bores, relentless and whimsical at the same time." There's also a lot of whining about how everything is their parents' fault, which is annoying. However, over all, fantastic book. I'm delighted to find that there are three previous Patrick Melrose novels. I am reading them all.

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