The critics have been praising the movie “The Spectacular Now,”…
I know that a little extra excitement about a book really triggers my hyperbole button and it’s hard to dodge the exclamation points whizzing from my pores, but it’s happened again and I can’t shut up. I loved Never Mind, the first book of Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series. Love-loved. Mind blown, loved. My only regret is that I read it on Kindle, so I wasn’t able to snap it shut, sigh, and set it on my bosom. Instead I did a less satisfying flick of a switch, closing of a case, bounce out of bed exclaiming: “THAT WAS AMAZING!”
This was the perfect mix of being exactly the book I wanted to read at that exact moment and, well, just being so, so great. It’s a single day in the lives of a handful of upper class sorts living in England and it glides from perspective to perspective so you see the inner workings of David Melrose, a total asshole, non-practicing doctor who is supported by his wife’s wealth-through-birth. His wife, Eleanor, is an American who steadies herself with a constant mix of booze and pills. Their son, Patrick, is the star of this series. He is five in this book and is shaping up to be a bit of a bully, a bit of a daredevil and, by the end of the story, the victim of one of the more terrible scenes I’ve read. (I’m guessing this scene has been a series-breaker for some readers).
There is Anne, also an American, the novel’s conscience and her partner, Victor, a philosopher who is struggling to write a book about identity without considering psychology. Daniel is a younger party guest, oft-married, flying in for a party at the Melrose house. He’s brought a shallow, albeit wily young stoner girlfriend along for the ride.
The day will include just a trip to the airport — with a detour to an amusement park, a violent episode, and one of the most uncomfortable dinner parties in the history of forks. And it’s all written in this incredibly detailed way that unfolds like scenes in a play and includes witty dialogue and something just short of caricature-style descriptions. These people are real and awful and they are seen writing checks to charity as well as doing the math on what kind of pill combo, washed down with liquor, it will take to drive the car.
This is a super shorty that was put together as part of a collection that includes the first four of the five books from this series. It’s also available as a novella-length single, which is fun. It’s also well-documented that these stories have a touch of autobiography to them and it’s also well-documented that St. Aubyn is a bit socially prickly, although every interview I’ve read with him has made him sound like my favorite kind of socially prickly character, the kind I can’t decide if I love or hate.
After finishing Never Mind, a glass of water, a pee break and snack, I immediately dipped into the second book of the series, which is so completely different it hardly seems from the same family. Patrick Melrose, now in his 20s, now seems to have a story that rings closer to the Bret Easton Ellis/Jay McInernay family. While it was off-putting at first to walk into something so completely different, I guess his ability to completely switch up tone, style and approach is admirable. Whatever, it’s still early.
I’ll report back.