‘Some Hope’ by Edward St Aubyn

SomeHope

Fiction – paperback; Picador; 450 pages; 2006.

Some Hope, sometimes known as The Patrick Melrose Trilogy, is actually three novels in one.

The first, Never Mind, introduces us to Patrick Melrose, a lonely five-year-old, and his eccentric and wealthy English family, who live in Provence, France. His mother, Eleanor, is an alcoholic, who thinks nothing of driving an unwieldy Buick under the influence, and his father, David, a morose and cruel man who wanted to be a pianist but was forced into becoming a medical doctor, a vocation that was short-lived.

Into this claustrophobic world comes two sets of friends — American journalist Anne Moore and her boyfriend, Sir Victor Eisen, an eminent philosopher; and thrice-married Nicolas Pratt and his 20-year-old vapid girlfriend Bridget Watson-Scott — all of whom are invited over for a dinner party that turns into a vile comedy of manners.

The one-liners, put downs and out-and-out ‘gladitorial combat’ around the dinner table is very funny stuff — if you can ignore the fact that all the characters, with the exception of Anne, the token American outsider, are loathsome and horrible people.

Not very much happens in this novel, which is told in a series of vignettes from the perspective of each character, but there is one sordid act in the early stages, between Patrick and his elderly father, that has repercussions for the rest of the trilogy…

The second novel, Bad News, is less about the English gentry and their vile ways, and more about how one of their flock — Patrick — battles drug addiction. In startling prose, quite harrowing in places, outrageously funny in others, we meet Patrick as a washed-up 22-year-old constantly looking for the next hit, whether it be heroin, cocaine or speed.

His father has just died in a New York hotel room and because his mother is out of the country, doing some kind of good Samaritan work in Africa, it is up to Patrick to collect his father’s remains. Instead of turning the trip into a rather morbid grief-stricken one, Patrick sees it as an opportunity to not only rack up a huge hotel bill ($2,153) but to have some fun getting stoned in the Big Apple. You get the feeling he doesn’t quite take the whole my-father-has-just-died thing very seriously at all and you keep waiting for him to lose the box with his father’s ashes in it!

While Patrick, self-centred and obsessive, does not seem a particularly nice person, he endears himself to the reader because through all the stupid acts he carries out you know that he knows he’s being thick and just needs to get himself sorted out. There’s a hard edge to him — “Life’s not just a bag of shit, but a leaky one. You can’t help being touched by it, don’t you find?” he quips to a bellboy — but you wonder how much of it is really just an act…

The final part of the trilogy, Some Hope, is a return to the former vignette style of story-telling apparent in Never Mind. Patrick is now 30, off the drugs and considering becoming a barrister because, having spent most of his inheritance, he needs a job.

He — along with most of the characters littered throughout the trilogy (and a few interesting new ones) — is invited to a dinner party in Gloucestershire to which Princess Margaret has also been invited. It is this dinner party, including the shenanigans before, during and afterwords, that forms the novel’s centrepiece, and much of it is laugh-out loud funny. (I must say that the Princess Margaret character is a brilliant and wicked creation.)

But the humour is tempered by a confession that Patrick makes to his best friend before the dinner party even starts. When he reveals why he hates his late father so much, even eight years after his death, you get the sense that Patrick is, at long last, finding the courage to move on with his life, that there is ‘some hope’ after all…

All in all, this trilogy is a roller-coaster of a read and just as eccentric as the characters it portrays. I am now looking forward to reading St Aubyn’s 2006 Booker short-listed Mother’s Milk, which is the fourth instalment in the Patrick Melrose story.

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