Imagine that you hear a rich and beautiful voice in the next room. The speaker is articulate, uses apt similes and metaphors, and entertains with a sardonic wit. You move closer the better to appreciate the performance. You realise that the story the beautiful voice is telling is a dark one, featuring rich but dysfunctional and miserable people. Some of the events circle around a loathsome man who is a sadist. The other characters include alcoholics and prescription drug addicts, social climbers, an abused child and wife, a neglectful mother. Your dilemma is this: do you endure the mordant tale for the sake of the skill with which it is told?
While I don’t agree with the hyperventilating comparisons to Wilde and Waugh, I devoured Never Mind in a day and resolved to get the rest of the Edward St Aubyn ‘Melrose’ novels as soon as the shops opened. It was a bit like resolving to go ahead with a relationship despite discovering that your new-found partner has nasty relatives. I never would have chosen to read about such unpleasant, ludicrously rich and snobby people if I hadn’t heard what a fine writer St Aubyn was. Despite the darkness, I’m glad I did.
I’m now reading Bad News and have the remaining ‘Melrose’ novels close to hand. My eyes keep flicking to them like a junkie triple-checking his pockets for that last gram. The terrible part is that the closer I get to the next book, the closer I get to the end of the supply.
© JD Ellevsen
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