Never Mind, Edward St Aubyn
Recommend by Francis Brett. Franco is a singer who I have had the pleasure of working with many times over the years, but more frequently in recent times as he has appeared with EXAUDI with increasing frequency. We have shared many a bottle of wine in many a foreign town, and he can always be relied upon as one of those singers who almost never talks about singing but instead prefers to discuss other things.
Never Mind looks to be one of the shortest books in my list of 40, but punches well above its weight in terms of intensity. The book is the first of the Patrick Melrose novels, even though Patrick is not really the main focus of the book. The way in which he is treated during this book makes you fear for his future in the other four books of the series, and I will definitely need to read those once this year is over. The book details minutely, and with searing insight, a single day in the life of the Melrose family. Overbearing, cruel, yet charming when he needs to be, David is married to Eleanor – a lady who clearly enjoys a drink or six, mixed with an unhealthy quantity of various uppers and downers. Patrick, their only son, is 5 in this novel – I have no idea what will happen to him later in the series.
On the day in question, preparations are afoot for a dinner party at the Melrose residence in southern France, and it is onto this seemingly innocuous backdrop that St Aubyn paints his visceral picture of life in this unashamedly upper class life. He manages to move from spine chilling to horrifying to laugh-out-loud hilarious without pausing for breath, leaving the reader almost gasping for breath as one turns the page. The fact that the novel is partially autobiographical and that St Aubyn used writing about his childhood experiences by way of therapy whilst recovering from drug addiction only serves to make it more chilling.
It was this autobiographical post-addiction connection that led me to read this book immediately after The outrun, and I’m glad that I combined the two. Both are extraordinary ways to document less than ideal earlier lives – extremely brave, and yet compelling. I suppose if one didn’t know that St Aubyn’s work was based on truths from his own life, it might make the reader feel a little different, but I knew before I started. It is a strange thing, to want to read more to find out what happens to characters when you find yourself struggling to empathise or even sympathise with them. I am not including Patrick in this – one can only feel horrified at what life may hold in store for him, and yet I feel utterly compelled to read on and find out…
Truly extraordinary and compelling writing.