four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
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744744.pngEdward St. Aubyn is a British author best known for the Patrick Melrose series: Never Mind (1992), Bad News (1994), Some Hope (1994), and Mother’s Milk (2005). In 2006, Mother’s Milk was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

The Story: As a young boy, Patrick Melrose was repeatedly brutalized by his sadistic, pedophile father, a doctor from one of England’s esteemed, aristocratic families. His mother offered no protection. An American heiress, she refused to acknowledge the abuse, choosing instead to drown herself in alcohol and endless charity fundraisers. Forty years later, Patrick’s mother is finally, finally dead. On the day of her funeral, he reflects on his own life—one filled with drugs, alcohol, and infidelity—and wonders if he’ll ever be able to escape his parent’s terrible legacy.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 272 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780374298890

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"St. Aubyn’s books are at once extremely dark and extremely funny. … [I]f this is, as St. Aubyn’s publisher claims, the ‘culmination’ of the Melrose cycle, we can only wish Patrick well and be thankful that his travails have furnished the material for some of the most perceptive, elegantly written and hilarious novels of our era." Francine Prose

Barnes and Noble Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Each installment is both a comedy of manners and a wrenching psychological investigation; each oscillates between satire and tragedy, and all are written with flash and brio, ornamented by inspired simile, and spangled with mordant, Wildean wit." Katherine A. Powers

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] terrifying, spectacularly entertaining saga. … After a somewhat bumpy start (it has to be said that both the comedy and the spleen in the opening sections feel a little routine), At Last lifts off into the same crackling atmosphere of psychological emergency as its predecessors." James Lasdun

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"St Aubyn’s acerbic humour is wonderful but this is also a psychologically astute book. When the parallels between Patrick and St Aubyn are considered (St Aubyn has revealed that he shares Patrick’s history of abuse and addiction), the novel seems strikingly raw and honest, too." Leyla Sanai

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The books are written with an utterly idiosyncratic combination of emotional precision, crystalline observation and black humor, as if one of Evelyn Waugh’s wicked satires about British aristos had been mashed up with a searing memoir of abuse and addiction, and injected with Proustian meditations on the workings of memory and time. … Mr. St. Aubyn shares Patrick’s gift for observation, and his radar for pictorial and emotional detail enables him to capture just about anything in his pointillist prose, be it a mood, a person or a place." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

In our voyeuristic culture, it’s not surprising that a book about such awful people—wealthy, spiteful, racist, sadistic, and dissolute—is so entertaining. Not only is St. Aubyn’s skill as a writer of the highest caliber and his ability to make readers laugh at inopportune times rare; he also paints a compassionate, multilayered portrait of Patrick Melrose that many readers may (unfortunately) identify with. The fifth, and reputedly final, installment of this broadly autobiographical series, At Last is every bit as good as its predecessors, and readers new to the series will be best served by starting at the beginning. The book deserves the highest praise: "Demons are forever, but we’re privileged that St Aubyn chose to share his with us," concludes the Independent.