Customer Review

27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars milk and honey, 11 Dec 2006
This review is from: Mother's Milk (Hardcover)
Mother's Milk is the most recent to date of St Aubyn's books centred on the family he has written about before. Shortlisted for 2006's Booker Prize, the story sees Patrick, lawyer and husband, juggling his love for his two new sons with his alarm at his wife Mary's distance now that she sees herself as a mother and not a wife. Mary is besotted with sons Robert and Thomas and weary from the demands of motherhood. Also on the scene are Patrick's mother, who is determined to seek retribution for the snooty arrogance of her own mother by embracing charitable causes, and can't see that she is repeating the same pattern set by her own mother in frittering her children's inheritance on anyone but her children. The charitable cause in question is the hippyesque healing community run by Seamus, a convincing Irish charmer, in the French mansion that Patrick's mother has bequeathed to him.

The prose is beautiful - complex in parts, unconventional, thought-provoking and peceptive about the feelings and thoughts of both small kids and a piqued husband. The former is something most male authors don't attempt - putting into words the charm of small children has been almost exclusively in the domain of female writers. St Aubyn manages to do this without resorting to cloying, nauseating, twee cliches: there is no cooing over the cuteness of tiny fingers or dimples here, no metaphorical and painful pinching of cheeks. Some have criticised the children's comments as being too mature for their age, but for me, they worked perfectly and acted as a reference to the fact that children are often far more aware of their surroundings and far more intelligent and perceptive than adults give them credit for.

St Aubyn is also very convincing on Patrick, an alcoholic, and, crucially, he manages to describe the destructiveness of the addiction without being depressing and grey, like James Kelman in the almost unreadable How Late It Was , How Late, or Gerard Woodward in the brave but still dismal I'll Go to Bed at Noon. In fact, there are parts that are downright funny, like the drunken outing to the off-licence to replace a botle of whisky that Patrick has been surreptitiously slugging. The tug of conscience between duty and selfishness as regards thoughts on his aged mother who Patrick sulkily feels has let him down are also insightfully and sometimes hilariously drawn. Patrick manages to be selfish but not wildly dislikeable - he has no guilt feelings about his infidelity, and even Mary accepts it with resigned stoicism- and yet somehow his vulnerability as regards his alcoholism and his obvious love for his sons save him from becoming an ogre.

The peripheral characters are also captured exquisitely: Margaret, the clucking, know-it-all and somewhat bovine child minder in particular is a delight.

So, five stars and a round of applause for St Aubyn's book
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