Following on from the Patrick Melrose trilogy (Never Mind (Patrick Melrose Novels),Bad News (Patrick Melrose Novels) and Some Hope), we meet Patrick again when he is 42. This novel takes place over four summers, from the birth of Patrick's second son, Thomas, to his third year. Although this book can be read alone, it makes more sense if you have read the trilogy first and I would urge you to do so. As much of the first three books were about, either directly or indirectly, Patrick's relationship with his father, we now move on to the non relationship with his mother, Eleanor.
When we first meet Patrick, at the age of five, he is living in France with his abusive and unpleasant father and his alcoholic mother, Eleanor. Having been through drug addiction, Patrick's self destructive behaviour has led him to inherit Eleanor's alcoholism. As always, his sense of injustice is heightened by his parents behaviour - in this case, Eleanor's disinheriting his sons, Robert and Thomas, and leaving his childhood home to a man who is running a self help, new age centre. The family are supposed to be able to use the house for a holiday in the summer, but Patrick's sense of acute anger and misery makes the whole event something of an endurance test and you can easily understand why his wife, Mary, retreats into the more uncomplicated love she shares with Thomas. The finale of these exruciating holiday trips is an ill advised attempt to holiday in the States.
Edward St Aubyn writes such stunning and beautiful prose the book is a delight. You are instantly aware of what each person is thinking and feeling and he writes of what the children are experiencing, and their emotions, with great intensity. Robert is obviously a gifted and bright little boy, but St Aubyn uses Thomas's more uncomplicated and valid feelings, as the book progresses. This whole novel, in fact, encompasses far more points of view than the earlier books, which are told mainly from Patrick's point of view. I liked Mary and sympathised with her, while still seeing Patrick's point of view, as I was familiar with his life story and why he was attuned to find doom in every event and retreat into sarcasm as an armour.
Although the book sounds depressing, there are many humourous moments in all of the books. The trip to America, in particular, had me laughing out loud. Patrick is so unpleasant, so funny, so vulnerable, that he is one of my favourite fictional characters. I rate all these books highly. At Last is the last in the series, unless the author decides to return to the characters again and I sincerely hope he does. The entire series is, in my opinion, a masterpiece.