Edward St Aubyn (Picador, £16.99)
It must be disconcerting to attend the funeral of a parent and find that other people have perceived them in a completely different way to you. This is what happens to Patrick Melrose at his mother’s funeral, the day around which the story centres.
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Melrose’s many troubles have been compellingly chronicled in previous books. In the ‘Some Hope’ trilogy, he is raped as a child by his monstrous father, a scenario that becomes even more horrifying when you realise it’s semi-autobiographical, and, as a young man, he takes drugs, but comes out the other side. In the brilliant, Booker-shortlisted Mother’s Milk, his new-found contentment sours as he feels let down by his wife, Mary, and finds that the feeble mother who failed so miserably to protect him is giving his inheritance to a dubious foundation.
Now aged 45, Melrose is surprised to find his mother’s funeral affects him. He is estranged from Mary, living in a bedsit and being treated for depression. Throughout the day, he moves between grotesque elderly relatives, sanctimonious recipients of his mother’s charity, and his marvellously sane wife and sons.
Mr St Aubyn’s style has been compared to that of Waugh; he certainly shares with him the ability to convey with resonance the carelessly savage humour of a doomed and dysfunctional, yet well-connected family: ‘Mummy only had one car accident in her life but even then, when she was hanging upside down in the buckled metal, she had the Infanta of Spain dangling next to her.’
It’s not essential to have read the earlier books, but if you have, you will care more about what happens in this, apparently final, instalment. Mr St Aubyn writes about the pits of despair so convincingly that the contrasting prospect of redemption is infectiously uplifting. You find your-
self longing for Melrose to make the right decision about his life.