“The English didn’t ask much of their dukes in Anne’s opinion. All they had to do was hang on to their possessions, at least the very well-known ones, and then they got to be guardians of what other people call ‘our heritage.’ She was disappointed that this character with a face like a cobweb had not even managed the small task of leaving his Rembrandts on the wall where he found them.” (p. 29)
Even though I am an unabashed book snob, I understand and appreciate the concept of the “beach read.” Personally, since I work in the world of elementary education by day, I spend the majority of the work day reading scholarly educational articles and children’s literature. When I get home, I CRAVE challenge and adult-targeted intellectual stimulation. There’s nothing wrong with reading something just for fun, but for me, my mindless entertainment needs are filled by my embarrassing reality TV addiction. When I pick up a book, even if I want something “light,” I need good writing coupled with a page-turner of a plot line. Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novel cycle is my idea of a perfect beach read: a crazy compelling story coupled with acerbic, tightly-crafted prose. It’s as if the staff if the New Yorker took over the pages of a British gossip mag, imbuing each piece with CRAFT, without losing all the sordid, train-wreck-esque garishness that makes it impossible stop turning the pages.
Now, Never Mind is by no means a “light” read. Edward St. Aubyn’s style, in my opinion, is the love child of Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh and Jonathan Franzen, if such a bizarre three-way were possible and productive. The first of five novels centered around Patrick Melrose, Never Mind opens on Patrick as a remarkably independent and self-sufficient five-year-old, navigating his way among the remaining members England’s dying landed gentry while summering at his mother’s estate in France. Within a few pages, we understand where his self-reliance comes from: his mother, Eleanor, is a raging alcoholic, and his father, David, is cruel and calculating almost beyond comprehension. Yet as despicable as these two characters are, and as horrific the events of that summer afternoon that ensue are, St. Aubyn’s writing is so clean, sharp and insightful that the novel is impossible to put down. This book manages to be both witty and disturbing and compelling all at once, which is no easy task for a writer. Due to one particularly memorable scene, I will never look at figs the same way again.
“But that’s what charm is: being malicious about everybody except the person you are with, who then glows with the privilege of exemption.” (p.87)
Rubric rating: 8.5. I made short work of the remaining 4 books in the cycle and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you!