St. Aubyn, Edward 1960-
St. Aubyn, Edward 1960-
Born 1960, in Cornwall, England. Education: Attended Oxford University.
Booker Prize shortlist, 2006, for Mother's Milk.
On the Edge, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1998.
A Clue to the Exit, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2000.
Mother's Milk, Open City Books (New York, NY), 2006.
"PATRICK MELROSE" TRILOGY
Never Mind, Minerva (London, England), 1992.
Bad News, Minerva (London, England), 1993.
Some Hope, Heinemann (London, England), 1994.
Some Hope: A Trilogy (contains Never Mind, Bad News, and Some Hope), Open City Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Born to an aristocratic family whose history can be traced back to the Norman conquest of England, Edward St. Aubyn endured a painful childhood within his privileged existence. When he was a young boy, his father raped him over a period of two years. He kept the abuse a secret because his father promised to kill his son if he told anyone. As he grew into a young man, St. Aubyn unsurprisingly turned to drugs—in his case, heroin—and was addicted for several years, including while he was attending Oxford University. Later he sought therapy, but St. Aubyn discovered the best treatment could be found in writing. In a painfully personal process, St. Aubyn composed the "Patrick Melrose" trilogy, an autobiographical novelization of his experiences. The books include Never Mind, Bad News, and Some Hope, and were later published together in the United States as Some Hope: A Trilogy. More recently, St. Aubyn also completed a stand-alone novel, Mother's Milk, that features his protagonist from the previous books. The author told Rachel Cooke in an Observer interview how cathartic the books have been for him: "Once I started writing, I decided to stop the analysis. I didn't need it any more. But I knew it was good because I went to see my analyst after making a suicide attempt. I was very, very precarious and then I felt a lot better. I stopped feeling mad; there was some sense of order."
St. Aubyn introduces Patrick, age five, in Never Mind. While the book most definitely has serious scenes including father David's physical and sexual abuse of Patrick and his physical abuse of Patrick's mother, a large element of the novel also involves skewering the snobbery of the British upper class. Leo Carey, writing in the New York Times Book Review, felt that the combination of humor and disturbing child abuse has a jarring effect. "The unexpectedness of these scenes adds to the shocking effect, but it also invites the suspicion that St. Aubyn isn't quite capable of juxtaposing comedy and savagery in a way that would enhance the effects of both," Carey remarked. The critic added, however, that "the idiosyncrasy of his decision to turn pain into a comedy of manners is appealing, even when it leads to miscalculation." Much of the comedy stems from banter among Patrick's family and a number of dinner guests, including an aristocratic philosopher, an American journalist, another upper-class family friend, and his vacuous, twenty-year-old girlfriend. "The one-liners, put downs and out-and-out ‘gladiatorial combat’ around the dinner table is very funny stuff," attested a Reading Matters reviewer.
Bad News has Patrick, now twenty-two, traveling to New York City to collect his father's body. His father died in a hotel room, and Patrick sees this as an opportunity to indulge in his heroine habit while spending his family's money on hotels and luxuries. There is little action to the story, much of which involves interior monologue. Carey appreciated the "stylistically ambitious passages," and added: "Where St. Aubyn really succeeds, however, is in evoking the desperate logistics of serious drug use." Some Hope catches up with Patrick eight years later, after he has kicked his addiction. Less caustic than the earlier novels, the story is set at a country estate where Patrick is vacationing and is, "once again, a comedy of manners." Carey commented: "The handling, however, is far more assured…. St. Aubyn expertly mixes pathos and humor."
Although Mother's Milk is about Patrick and his mother, St. Aubyn wrote it as a stand-alone novel independent of the trilogy. While Patrick's father, David, was the dominating force in the previous books, even after his death, with this fourth novel it is Patrick's mother who is the concern. The story covers a period of four years. Patrick is married with children, and he is concerned about his aging mother's health, but more importantly he is resentful that she is selling the family's estate in the south of France to a fraudulent shaman named Seamus. Patrick consoles himself with an affair, while his wife finds her life drained by motherly duties that leave her too tired for sex. The bitterness swelling in Patrick's heart is beginning to turn him into a reflection of his father, and although he does not sexually abuse his kids, he becomes noticeably crueler. "This is the underlying and more or less serious message of the novel—that the sins of the parents are cyclically revisited on the offspring," explained New York Times Book Review critic Charles McGrath. St. Aubyn received considerable praise for Mother's Milk, which was nominated for the Booker Prize. "Mother's Milk is so good—so fantastically well-written, profound and humane—that all the other stuff, even the inhospitable biography, bleaches to grey beside it," enthused Cooke. Michael Arditti admitted that the novel "is not perfect," yet it marks "the re-emergence of a major literary talent," and a Publishers Weekly writer described it as an "elegant and witty satire on the dissatisfactions of family life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Entertainment Weekly, November 11, 2005, Tina Jordan, review of Mother's Milk, p. 75.
Guardian (London, England), January 13, 2007, Hadley Freeman, profile of Edward St. Aubyn.
Independent (London, England), January 15, 2006, "A Boy Called Teddy," interview with Edward St. Aubyn; January 20, 2006, Michael Arditti, review of Mother's Milk.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2003, review of Some Hope: A Trilogy, p. 1198; August 15, 2005, review of Mother's Milk, p. 880.
New York Review of Books, March 25, 2004, Gabriele Annan, review of Vile Bodies, p. 32.
New York Times Book Review, January 4, 2004, Leo Carey, "A Bag of Heroin and a Crisp White Shirt," p. 6; November 13, 2005, Charles Mcgrath, "Last Marxists," review of Mother's Milk, p. 12; January 14, 2007, Ihsan Taylor, "Paperback Row," review of Mother's Milk, p. 24.
Observer (London, England), January 8, 2006, Rachel Cooke, "The Sins of the Father," review of Mother's Milk.
Publishers Weekly, August 22, 2005, review of Mother's Milk, p. 38.
Spectator, March 7, 1992, review of Never Mind, p. 30; November 14, 1992, review of Bad News, p. 43; June 25, 1994, review of Some Hope, p. 31; May 23, 1998, review of On the Edge, p. 36; September 16, 2000, review of A Clue to the Exit, p. 45; December 31, 2005, D.J. Taylor, "Friction That Makes Sparks Fly," p. 35.
Times Literary Supplement, March 6, 1992, review of Never Mind, p. 20; November 13, 1992, review of Bad News, p. 21; June 24, 1994, review of Some Hope, p. 24; May 15, 1998, review of On the Edge, p. 23; September 8, 2000, Theo Tait, review of A Clue to the Exit, p. 23.
Man Overboard,http://manoverboard-nz.blogspot.com/ (September 22, 2006), Barry Dunedin, review of Mother's Milk.
New Pages,http://newpages.com/ (May 14, 2007), Danielle LaVaque-Manty, review of Mother's Milk.
Reading Matters,http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/ (November 1, 2006), review of Some Hope.