Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn

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Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Mother's Milk is a masterpiece of style and construction from a writer clearly at the top of his game. It has clear sight, intelligence and a vicious wit, but it lacks an emotional connection.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: January 2007
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330435918

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This is the book that should have won the Booker Prize last year. What on earth the judges were thinking of I just cannot imagine. They let us down. Again. Mother's Milk continues the story of Patrick Melrose, the victim of paternal abuse in St Aubyn's Some Hope trilogy. This time, as the title suggests, it's Patrick's mother who is letting him down. She's become involved with a New Age Foundation in favour of which she remorselessly disinherits Patrick, piece by family piece. Mother's Milk is elegant, it's witty, it's savage. Its insight is clear and piercing. Its prose style is beyond compare. St Aubyn handles multiple narrators with ease. It is dense and complicated but easy to read. In comparison, Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss seems horribly insipid. You were cheated, Mr St Aubyn. But I didn't like your book.

I'll come clean. I'm an inverted snob. I've no patience with the whining of the spoiled rich. Patrick's mummy wills the ancestral pile (well, family villa in the south of France, actually, but it's the same thing from where I'm sitting and from where most of us are sitting) to a New Age shyster. Patrick, a leading London barrister, feels utterly impoverished by this and uses it as a justification for slipping into a drug-fuelled alcoholic stupor from which he emerges only to conduct an extra-marital affair or to complain bitterly to anyone who'll listen. His wife, Mary, is utterly absorbed with their younger son, Thomas. I suppose they're not quite poor enough for Mary to have to make ends meet with an evening shift on the tills at ASDA, y'see. The older Melrose child, Robert, is a deep, intelligent child and Patrick's bitterness rubs off on him.

Ack. Who cares about such spoiled people? Not me. I just cannot make an emotional connection with their ilk. I think this fault is probably more mine than it is St Aubyn's - I don't suppose I'd be happy to hear that my own troubles were unimportant, paling into insignificance as they do besides the poverty of sweatshop workers in developing countries. But then again, I'm not asking them to make an emotional connection with me by writing a book, am I?

Notwithstanding my moaning, Mother's Milk really should have won the Booker. It's quite wonderful. From the powerful opening sequence in which Robert Melrose describes his own birth, to the hilarious interlude when a drunken Patrick tries to replace a bottle of whisky on his host's drinks trolley, St Aubyn doesn't put a foot wrong. He's been compared to Waugh, to Hollinghurst, to Updike. He is the equal of all three, at the very least. If you can see past my inverted snobbery, you will think this book is a tour-de-force.

Thanks to the publisher, Picador, for sending the book.

We also enjoyed At Last by Edward St Aubyn.

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Magda said:

Yes, I think I would feel the same regarding content. Clearly people have rather varied ideas about what impoverished means. Inheritance should be abolished.