I've also read the first four Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn, pointed towards them by a friend whose recommendations I always trust, and perhaps especially motivated by her telling me that
As it was, reading the four bound together, I went from that strange mix of the dense and the dark and stylish and the aphoristic directly into the next book, jumping forward to see the young boy, not so shockingly, I suppose, become a heroin addict. A heroin addict with enough funds to cushion himself from the full depredations of that addiction. Again, the stylishness of the writing mesmerizes, gruesome details of needles and veins and dangers ignored in desperation for the next fix, the out-of-control behaviour of an addict who imagines himself to be in control.
And it's not that the writing is merely stylish in its prosody, its word choice, its rhythms. It's stylish also in its content, in the knowingness, the aptitude of its observations about this privileged class of 1960s England, for a start. If it merely sneered, that might be entertaining enough, but there's something so disarming about the blend of intimacy and distancing that the writing effects. It shares the intimacy of such close observation, but even as the writer lets us see Patrick Melrose seeing, there's something of that young boy we met at the beginning that sticks. There's something about looking and mirrors and cloaking that is wound right into the aphoristic style. The gleeful grabbing for a pen to copy down yet another amusingly worded skewering is arrested often by the reader's awareness of the trauma that has saturated Patrick's life.
I know that some of you will not want to read any book that includes such a traumatic event, and I can understand that. And yet there are so many delightful moments, so much sheer fun, in the novels. Hard to believe if you haven't read them, and hard to explain even though I have, but wait until you meet Patrick's precocious children -- their brilliant and delightful laying-out of the terrain between innocence and experience. Or until you read of Princess Margaret as an honoured guest at a dinner party, the table full of sycophants -- she does not come off as any more appealing than the sycophants, and if you were inclined to admire her or pity her after watching The Crown, you might feel less so after this depiction.
This, of course, is an absolutely inadequate response to St. Aubyn's work in this series, and I can only excuse myself by saying that I'd rather read than write, and that there are so many clever, professional reviews of the books out there already. I will mention, before closing, that I haven't seen this series compared yet to Elena Ferrante's or Karl Knausgaard's series, but all three blur the lines between fiction and autobiography, all three draw long narrative arcs of a protagonist in a family context against while revealing something about the social and/or political national culture (Whoops! I did a bit of Googling after I wrote that last sentence, and I found this article on Serial Storytelling in the 21st Century, by NYU's Karen Hornick.)
If you're at all intrigued, you might want to read Mick Brown's review of the series and interview with St. Aubyn in this 2014 Telegraph article. I hope some of you may have read the books already and/or that some of you will read them now, so that we might chat about them a bit. I've requested At Last from the library, but I think I'll end up buying my own copies of at least some of the volumes, simply because there are so many sentences, paragraphs, whole sections that I want to read aloud to others (my poor family! the travails of living with a passionate reader ;-)