Monday, February 13, 2012

Dysfunctional Father and Son

Some Hope: A Trilogy
Some Hope: A Trilogy 

"The Proposition I want to make," said David, "is that education should be something of which a child can later say: If I survived that, I can survive anything." (p 92)

This trilogy of novellas presents the Melrose family in which David Melrose and his son Patrick play leading roles. It is the story of a man’s abusive father and the effects of a decadent upper class. Patrick Melrose, as a boy in “Never Mind” experiences the attention of his sadistic father David, who makes his wife eat like a dog just to verify his power, and holds his son up by the ears to teach him to make important decisions for himself. In fact, one of David's personal mottoes is " to break even the smallest rules." David certainly is unconcerned with society's rules when meting out his ritual humiliations. Patrick is on the receiving end of much of this behavior as he thinks to himself, “He did not know who this man was, it could not be his father who was crushing him like this.”
The second volume, “Bad News”, finds an older Patrick with residual personal issues, not the least of which is a drug addiction, spending at least $5K/week on heroine or cocaine: “How could he ever hope to give up drugs? They filled him with such intense emotion.” Also, father David has just died. We follow Patrick as he visits the funeral home abroad to gloat over the body, then allows himself to indulge in the best smack in the world, fending off the voices that are the evidence of his trauma: “Every thought or hint of a thought took on a personality stronger than his own.” Patrick heads back to England, after bemoaning his own lot in life with bon mots like: " God, imagine having and opposite number instead of always being one's own opposite number". He seems to have missed out on experiencing either satisfying spite or legitimate grief. Finally, in “Some Hope,” set eight years later, Patrick has dropped the drugs but is still haunted by the memory of his father. His life is not improving enough to convince you, dear reader, that he has any more than some hope -- and little at that. St. Aubyn has a wonderful style filled with intelligent metaphors and a lucid understanding of British upper-class life. The Trilogy reminded me a bit of Evelyn Waugh without the brightness or sparkle.

Some Hope: A Trilogy by Edward St. Aubyn. Open City Books, New York. 2003 (1998)


Parrish Lantern said...

This sounds like a fascinating read, and reminds of the Henry Green, I read recently, not so much in content but your comment on it "reminded me a bit of Evelyn Waugh without the brightness or sparkle." which was one of the authors that sprang to mind when I read this book.

James said...

It is both fascinating and, alternatively, horrifying in the excesses of the main characters. I'm not familiar with Henry Green, but Alduous Huxley's Point Counter Point also comes to mind as a distant relative of Some Hope.