At Last by Edward St Aubyn

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At Last by Edward St Aubyn

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: The final part of St Aubyn's Melrose family trilogy. Full of laugh out loud humour and stylish prose, but you will get the most from this book only if you have read at least the previous book in the series - Mother's Milk.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Picador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0330435901

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In At Last, Edward St Aubyn returns to the Melrose family, the subject of both Some Hope and of his Booker-shortlisted Mother's Milk. I confess that I have still not got around to reading the first of the trilogy, but loved Mother's Milk and found that I wasn't greatly disadvantaged by not having read the previous book. At Last could also be read as a stand-alone book, but I wouldn't advise this approach. You will miss out on so much that if you are planning on reading it, you really should read at least Mother's Milk first. This isn't much of an inconvenience as it's a terrific book.

I'd also add that if you are thinking of taking this route, you might want to stop reading this review at this point. While it's possible to give a taste of At Last without spoilers, the story follows on from Mother's Milk, so the very set up means that if you don't want to know what happens, you might want to look away now.

St Aubyn's subjects are very much the upper class elite - and their self-centred behaviour as they squander their inheritances. That might not be to everyone's taste as a subject matter and certainly it isn't the life that most of us lead. But he sends them up beautifully and you will soon be laughing and shaking your head at their attitudes. St Aubyn's style is waspishly funny - for me, he is like a slightly more literary, English version of Brett Easton Ellis. There's a similar level of shock and bad behaviour, but he's a more humane writer than Easton Ellis.

OK, so I'm hoping that all those who plan on reading Mother's Milk have now left the room so I can reveal that the setting for At Last is the funeral of Eleanor - the mother who so infuriated her son Patrick in Mother's Milk. As various characters, some of whom will be familiar from the earlier books. gather to see her off, most of them are wrapped up in their own thoughts and obsessions. There's the new age advocate Annette, the curmudgeonly family friend Nicholas Pratt and the supremely selfish Aunt Nancy to name but a few. At least Patrick seems to have recovered from some of his former vices, but will Eleanor's passing allow him to finally make peace with the past? St Aubyn is adept at creating a clear picture of these eccentrics with a few deft descriptions.

It's certainly true that most readers won't identify much with St Aubyn's eccentric and wealthy characters and if that means that you will struggle to build an emotional bond to them, then this book may not be for you.

St Aubyn's wickedly funny observations drip off almost every page. He delivers one line observations that would do any stand up comic proud, all wrapped in an intelligent and thoughtful prose style. There are a number of laugh out loud moments as well as some thoughtful investigation of the psychological damage that people inherit from their parents. The whole book is set on one day at the crematorium and the subsequent wake - and St Aubyn is certainly not the first writer to recognise the comic potential of these events which gather disparate people together. All knew Eleanor in different ways, and perhaps Patrick's experience of her is not the whole story.

It's a very satisfying conclusion to Mother's Milk, but I'm less convinced that it stands as well as a novel in it's own right. It's more the conclusion of a story arc started elsewhere than a satisfying read in itself.

Our thanks to the kind people at Picador for inviting The Bookbag to review At Last.

Please read Mother's Milk before reading this - it will significantly add to your enjoyment of this book. For more of the rich behaving badly, you might also enjoy The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis.

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