52 weeks – 6 January, 2012

Books

The Patrick Melrose novels - cpverThe Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn: for me, a difficult read. This volume brings together four novellas, portraying various stages of Patrick Melrose’s life. In Never Mind, Patrick is a five-year-old boy, mentally and physically abused by his father and emotionally neglected by his mother. As a young man in Bad News, he is a heroin addict who is celebrating his father’s death by swerving dangerously close to his own. In Some Hope, he has survived to become a fairly happy adult, married and with a son. In Mother’s Milk, he is in his forties and has two sons but is estranged from his wife. He is unhappily facilitating his mother’s wishes to give the family home in Provence to a dubious New Age group and to end her own life.

The novellas are semi-autobiographical. St. Aubyn was sexually abused by his father when he was a child and he was (not surprisingly?) a heroin addict as a young man. The first two parts of the book were extremely painful reading and I wondered whether it was worth enduring. St. Aubyn is undoubtedly a brilliant writer, but the brilliance is cold and bitter. There is a highly caustic wit that lightens the mood from time to time and leavens some of the more painful scenes, but it is the kind of cutting humour more likely to generate a grimace than a laugh — such as when Patrick is carrying his father’s ashes around New York in Bad News:

By the time he reached Sixty-first Street, Patrick realized that it was the first time he had been alone with his father for more than ten minutes without being buggered, hit, or insulted. The poor man had had to confine himself to blows and insults for the last fourteen years, and insults alone for the last six.
The tragedy of old age, when a man is too weak to hit his own child. No wonder he had died. Even his rudeness had been flagging towards the end, and he had been forced to introduce a note of repulsive self-pity to ward off any counterattack.

The background of the stories is the decadent, parasitic sub-culture that exists among some members of Britain’s upper classes, with visits from both snobby Euro-trash and a few middle class people who don’t know how to behave in the rarefied atmosphere they’ve strayed into. Princess Margaret makes a convincing appearance at a house party in Some Hope.

One of the things that helped me get through the last two books was seeing events from the point of view of Patrick’s sons, Robert and Thomas: they are versions of Patrick, bright and precocious as you would expect, who have not experienced the horrors of his upbringing.

embellishmentAt Last was published at the end of 2012. It promises to bring the series to an end with the death of Patrick’s mother.

THEATRE

Grim and FischerSaw Grim & Fischer by the Wonderheads at the Cultch. I could not have imagined how many changes of expression are possible without words and with full face masks. All the nuances are conveyed with a tilt of the head and a subtle shift of the body, helped by lighting and music. The story is of an aging woman who is visited by the Grim Reaper; she is not ready to go and she employs all kinds of stalling tactics.

The Wonderheads, from Portland, Oregon, are actors Kate Braidwood and Andrew Phoenix. Braidwood is also the mask maker.

FoodGranville Island Pasta

A walk through Granville Island Market is always a feast for the senses. Choice fruits and vegetables, meat and glistening fresh seafood, delicatessens, patissiers, chocolatiers — it is hard to resist coming home with enough food to feed an army.

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3 thoughts on “52 weeks – 6 January, 2012

  1. Evelyn Waugh is the first writer I thought of when reading the Patrick Melrose novels (which I was dazzled by, the first three of them in particular). James Wood is right, though (in his review of the Melrose novels: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/02/27/120227crbo_books_wood) when he describes St. Aubyn as a “colder, more savage writer than either [Waugh or Oscar Wilde]”. In fact if you had to choose one word to describe these novels, I think that “savage” is that word (an instinct for self preservation would encourage St. Aubyn’s acquaintances to stay well out of his line of fire…)

  2. Waugh definitely has an eye for the pompous, the cruel and the absurd. But I think he is an absolute pussycat compared to St. Aubyn. Both have a fine turn of phrase, though.

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