Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Edward St Aubyn - Mother's Milk

Nothing to do with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers - thank god.
Mother's Milk is part 4 of a set of books, known as Patrick Melrose series (the precursors to this being Never Mind, Bad News and Some Hope) and is largely autobiographical in some respects (although, it is unclear what aspects are based on true life and those that are fiction.) Focusing on 4 summers in August, Mother's Milk follows the ups and downs of Melrose and his family from the viewpoints of several characters, jumping from Patrick, to his two young sons and also his wife.

I was surprised that I really enjoyed this book. Not having read any or heard of Edward St. Aubyn before (it was selected for our club from an outside source) it wasn't exactly what I expected, but the content actually exceeded my expectations, which is always a bonus when you go in half blind. Aubyn's style is incredibly witty - After the first 2 pages I was laughing and reading passages out to people. The character of Patrick Melrose is a slightly bitter, sarcastic, world-weary individual, who is attempting to be a better parent than his actual parents, but still seems to be suffering. his mother is painted in a rather unfavourable light (on her deathbed, losing her mind, content to bequeath her wealth to a cult), whilst Partrick becomes embroiled in an affair with an old school sweetheart so he can feel...well, something.

He's jealous of his wife and her relationship with his youngest son. Although he loves them, it appears he feels his children have taken his wife away as she no longer has the time to be intimate with Patrick, causing a rift. (slight Oedipus-tendencies at work, all created by Patrick overacting)

Patrick might come across as the villain of the piece (he's rather more a scallywag, and a rogue), but as someone pointed out, his wife is just as much to blame for not even addressing the situation - she fully admits to herself that she knows of his adultery but lets him carry on. It's unclear how miserable she feels about this however. It could be a simple matter of her letting Patrick 'get it out of his system' so to speak, which seems an odd and implausible attitude for someone who's supposed to be a loving relationship with him. Although, the reason for the affair stems from the fact they aren't really in a relationship - only by name.

On to more humourous matters, the characters of Thomas and Robert are fantastic. They have the comic timing and styles of the children from Outnumbered - not so much asking who would win in a fight between a polar bear and Jesus, but more the quick wit and eccentricities of Karen's character and the oddball moments of Ben's.

Although, the children's humour did seem quite advanced for their ages, which was a slight concern. I somehow doubt a four-year old could do such an accurate impression of their babysitter's eccentric mannerisms.

An enjoyable book, wonderful writing style and sharp wit. Be interesting to read the others in the series, although from what I read in the notes in the back of my copy, the eariler books focused on a much darker aspect of Melrose's life.

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