Never Mind (Patrick Melrose novel #1) by Edward St. Aubyn

Genre: fiction about dysfunctional families. ⭐️Stars from Goodreads: 3.93. ⭐️Stars from me: 4.5.

About the book

Never Mind is a book about several people from high society, some of whom are dysfunctional and some are pure evil, and a child who has to live among them.

There are five novels about Patrick Melrose. This first one tells about a single day from Patrick’s childhood. The novel was published in 1992. Patrick is just five years old in the story (so the photo of Cumberbatch on the cover is quite misleading even though he played grown-up Patrick in the series based on the novels). The last novel, called At Last, was published in 2011. Which means that, theoretically, Patrick had time to grow up and look more like Cumberbatch in the later books. I’m being that careful in my predictions because of what I now know about Patrick’s childhood. I’m absolutely not sure what his future might be like.

The novel is very short, there are only 181 pages in it. It feels more like a first act of a theatrical performance. The amount of action would fit into a mid-sized short story. The action, though is not the main treasure of the book. It’s the writing and the way it reveals the characters that make this book very special.

What I liked in this book

Humour

For the fist several pages I was sure the whole book would be hilarious. I had no idea about the horrors that were coming so I was just laughing out loud at phrases like these:

Patrick’s own nanny was dead. A friend of his mother’s said she had gone to heaven, but Patrick had been there and knew perfectly well that they had put her in a wooden box and dropped her in a hole. Heaven was the other direction…

… a civil servant who was widely thought to be a spy because his job sounded too dull to exist.

The writing

It’s not about how the writing sounds, it’s about the things it exposes. It’s sharp, witty and ironical.

They turned into self-parodies without going to the trouble of acquiring a self first.

He was one of those Englishmen who was always saying silly things to sound less pompous, and pompous things to sound less silly.

The characters are created in the same way. Most of them are despicable but you can see each layer of their corrupted souls, and that’s why they draw your attention.

Diagnosis had been his most intoxicating skill as a doctor and after exhibiting it he had often lost interest in his patients, unless something about their suffering intrigued him.

A dark red and heavily gilded chair that Eleanor’s American grandmother had prised from an old Venetian family on one of her acquisitive sweeps through Europe gleamed against the opposite wall of the room. He enjoyed the scandal connected with its acquisition and, knowing that it should be carefully preserved in a museum, he made a point of sitting on it as often as possible.

‘D’you believe in capital punishment?’ piped up Bridget.

‘Not since it ceased to be a public occasion’, said David.

A few warnings about the book

Even though the book is short I wouldn’t say it’s a fast read. The writing is not that transparent. You have to slow down and focus on each phrase to grasp the full meaning of what’s going on.

The novel doesn’t feel like a completed story. You will have to read the next books in the series to learn what eventually happens to Patrick Melrose.

Another, and much more serious warning is about violence and abuse, portrayed so skilfully that you can imagine all omitted details even better than those that are shown.

Final thoughts

I will definitely continue with Patrick Melrose novels, even though now I’m not sure I would be able to stomach the TV show. I would recommend this book very carefully, in the same way that I would recommend Nabokov’s Lolita. I personally think it’s a true work of art but I’m not sure what effect such art can have on others.

5 thoughts on “Never Mind (Patrick Melrose novel #1) by Edward St. Aubyn

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