I’m usually not drawn to a book series, and the only reason I chose Edward St. Aubyn’s The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels is because I got a great introductory deal from Audible. All five of these books were on one tape for the same price I would have paid for a single audio edition. The Scot in me couldn’t resist getting a deal, and I thought I could tolerate listening to it during my long commutes in rush hour traffic to and from San Francisco.
Another bonus? The narrator is outstanding, one of the best I’ve experienced. He made each character distinct with his wide-ranging dialects and varied voices. I couldn’t stop myself from entering this unforgettable world of English aristocratic society with its many quirks and mannerisms. It made me grateful for my own Canadian lower middle-class upbringing. As these books make clear, prestige and wealth don’t necessarily protect us from cruelty or guarantee a satisfying life.
As the collection’s title suggests, Patrick Melrose is the central focus in these five works. He’s a piece of work himself, struggling to break free from the nightmare it was to be the son of David, one of the most monstrous characters I’ve encountered in literature. Iago seems like a saint next to David.
While the early sections capture Patrick’s unhappy childhood years and his young adulthood as a consumer of every illicit drug imaginable, they do so with riffs of dark humor and extraordinary grace. St. Aubyn himself is wicked in his way with words. I was constantly amazed at his stunning ability to create original metaphors. In one passage, when Patrick was visiting New York so he could pick up his dead father’s ashes, skyscrapers’ windows remind him of crossword puzzles. I’ll never view a skyscraper in the same way again.
I eventually bought the complete works for my husband to read, and he inhaled them over our during our vacation on the Mendocino coast. He was constantly reading me passages that blew us away with their tartness, insight, and style. St. Aubyn is no ordinary writer. He inhabits a class of his own that he’s created in this series.