Tuesday, February 19, 2013
REVIEW: Never Mind, by Edward St. Aubyn
Never Mind is the first of five novels by English writer Edward St. Aubyn to focus on the highly dysfunctional Melrose family- paterfamilias David, a monster of the declining British upper class, his fragile and drunk American wife Eleanor whose money props the family up, and little Patrick, just five as the story opens.
The book covers just a day and a night at the family home and gives enough back story to set the reader up comfortably. You might not be as comfortable with the people, only because they are so unfortunately awful. Really awful. If you need to like the characters you read about, or approve of their choices, or sympathize with their point of view, this isn't the book for you, although you probably will feel for little Patrick, at the mercy of horrible David and useless Eleanor.
The setting is a dinner party, and the cast of characters includes, in addition to the nuclear Melrose family, an older aristocrat and his young girlfriend, and a philosophy professor and his very nice lady friend. Each of these people has a complicated relationship with the others, and St. Aubyn's economical and stylish prose establishes these relationships crisply. He switches perspectives often, so we get to know how they see themselves and each other. It was fascinating.
And then there's the writing. Oh my, the writing. St. Aubyn is a marvelous stylist. On some pages I wanted to quote every other line. Describing David Melrose's appearance, and his personality, St. Aubyn writes, "the expression that men feel entitled to wear when they stare out of a cold English drawing room onto their own land had grown stubborn over five centuries and perfected itself in David's face." Describing the Melrose marriage he says "At the beginning, there had been talk of using some of her money to start a home for alcoholics. In a sense they had succeeded." Sometimes St. Aubyn's tartness takes on the tone of horror, like when David muses that his only crime as a parent was "to set about his son's education too assiduously. He was conscious of already being sixty, there was so much to teach him and so little time." This reverie will sound innocent enough until you read the book and understand exactly what he considers educational.
As horrified as I was by the behavior of the Melroses, I really enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading more. I love that Picador published the compendium of the first four books. The final installment, At Last, is out in paperback now. If you're up for some adventurous and edgy literary fiction, check out Never Mind.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.