Top positive review
31 people found this helpful
on 14 March 2006
Tastes differ, and for me it's no concern that the characters are mostly awful when the writing - and that's what it's all about, after all - is as good as this:
"She imagined vodka poured over ice and all the cubes that had been frosted turning clear and collapsing in the glass and the ice cracking, like a spine in the hands of a confident osteopath. All the sticky, awkward cubes of ice floating together, tinkling, their frost thrown off to the side of the glass, and the vodka cold and unctuous in her mouth."
Volume one of the trilogy - Never Mind - tells the story simply of a gathering at the house, in France, of an upper-class English couple, David and Eleanor Melrose. Eleanor, an alcoholic, is wealthy by birth and David married her for her money, though that's the least of his vices. He's an out-and-out villain, whether making his wife eat her dinner from the floor like a dog, or exerting power over his five-year-old son Patrick in the most disturbing ways. Their guests are not much better, and when the book ended I was both glad to see the back of such a bunch of upsetting misfits, and sorry to finish such a beautifully-written performance in prose. Even in the depths of depravity St. Aubyn is a pleasure to read, his writing full of life and the sort of subdued wit you know you will laugh at much more the second time around.
A word, by the way, about the title of the three volumes. I just love them. Never Mind. Bad News. Some Hope. Their stark, bare, blankness mixed with tiny ambiguities - like the names of exhibits at a modish art exhibition - makes me chuckle just to look at them. Never Mind sums up the coolly distant narrative voice, glossing over the horrors which David Melrose inflicts on his 'loved' ones. Bad News speaks literally of the central piece of information in the second book - that David Melrose has died - but ironically, because for his son Patrick, now 22 years old, it is very good news indeed. It is also reflective of Patrick himself, walking bad news if ever there was, a hopelessly out-of-control drug addict who spends the two days that the book covers, in New York to make arrangements after his father's death, in a stew of hallucinations and desperate fix-addiction. But as a portrait of addiction it's as laugh-out-loud funny as it is gripping.
Some Hope, finally - the third volume, as well as the title Picador have given to the overall series for this reissue - is a deliciously simple but subtle double-entendre, a rolled-eyes dismissal of the possibility of anything good coming from the contents of Never Mind and Bad News - but also a good-hearted acknowledgement of the existence of that possibility, however small. Not 'very much hope', then, but 'some hope' nonetheless. Just wonderful. It's a shame then that in the new Picador omnibus edition, these superb, perfect titles are reduced mostly to the status of chapter headings.
Anyway. Whereas Bad News gives us mostly the world from the eyes of Patrick Melrose, Some Hope returns to the multiple voices of Never Mind. This seems like a retreat, and Some Hope is at its strongest when in Patrick's mind (now thirty, and in recovery from his drug use), and at other times seems winsome and cutely aphoristic, which over time - though it's only 150 pages - can get irritating, just the way page after page of Oscar Wilde's paradoxes can. One quip goes a mightly long way. Nonetheless, the portrait of Princess Margaret is a triumph, and the whole trilogy has a cumulative power that takes it to the highest echelons of modern English writing. And the Best News is that the stand-alone sequel, Mother's Milk, is even better.