Home Book Review Nicholas Hoare reviews “Patrick Melrose Novels” & “At Last” by Edward St. Aubyn
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Nicholas Hoare reviews “Patrick Melrose Novels” & “At Last” by Edward St. Aubyn

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Several decades after the completion of Anthony Powell ‘s immortal cycle, A Dance to the Music of Time, another British novelist, cut from similar cloth, has finally joined the American mainstream with a cycle of his own.

After four attempts to crack a hitherto implacable market, the fifth, and concluding, novel in Edward St. Aubyn ‘s memorable quintet, The Patrick Melrose Novels, which began as far back as 1992, has finally taken off; but whereas At Last (which is reviewed here separately) marks a stellar conclusion to an already astonishing series, its four predecessors – Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope and Mother’s Milk – serve as an indispensable build-up to the grand finale. Sturdily bound in soft covers, almost 700 pages strong, the book is a bargain from start to finish.

Patrick Melrose is all of 22 when the cycle begins, the son of a wealthy English doctor, whom he loathes, and his equally taciturn wife. Using his trademark conceit of confining foreground action to a narrow time span, the author weaves a tale of inevitable ups and downs in a series of settings – Paris and New York among them – as his anti-hero ages.

This is British social history, in fictional form, as has not been seen in years. By way of comparison, the sadly overlooked Patrick Hamilton, whose timeless classic, Hangover Square, springs instantly to mind, is no match, as a single novel, for any volume in a cycle of five where all are standouts; and for those of our readers who enjoy such fiction, the Melrose novels are well-nigh peerless.

Nancy Mitford would have been thrilled. Impeccably written, with finely crafted dialogue, all five novels are unreservedly recommended.

AT LAST

by EDWARD ST. AUBYN

The Patrick Melrose Novels , the first four of which are now available as a single, eminently affordable paperback, are now superbly complete.

At Last, Edward St. Aubyn ‘s concluding volume in this most British of series, sees our hero at a certain age – divorced, with two sons of his own – reverting to root stock. With history in danger of repeating itself in the wake of the sins visited upon him by his own father, Patrick now acknowledges the social risks he faces, and questions how best to effect a rapprochement with his boys.

Once again encapsulated in a short time span – in this case the day of his detested mother’s funeral – he decides on a course of action that leads to a measure of peace after years of ups and downs.

As a fictional study of the British upper classes and the psychological effect of inherited wealth – a subject the author knows well – this novel is hard to beat, even as a stand-alone. Taken in conjunction with its four predecessors, however, it marks the crescendo of a cycle that bears all the hallmarks of a classic.

As high-end fiction, not to be missed (and what a charming jacket!).

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