Bart's Reviews > At Last

At Last by Edward St. Aubyn
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Dec 04, 13

Read from April 24 to 26, 2012

This is an exceptional novel that draws a clear line between the qualitative differences of contemporary British fiction and contemporary American fiction. Those who celebrate Jonathan Safron Foer, David Foster Wallace or Junot Diaz ought to study each of this novel's 270 pages (or at least the best 230 of them) and see how intelligent fiction looks when it is handled by an engaging adult narrator.

The end of At Last has its tedious moments, but they are tedious for being moments of honestly expressed ideas about death (as opposed merely to invoking empathy for one's tedium). There is no epiphany in this novel, or in its four predecessors. Rather, there is the adult matter of muddling through what events befall children, without a clashing of cymbals at every interval.

As before, St. Aubyn is best when satirizing the European aristocracy:

. . . the more or less secret superiority and the more or less secret shame of being rich, generating their characteristic disguises: the philanthropy solution, the alcoholic solution, the mask of eccentricity, the search for salvation in perfect taste; the defeated, the idle and the frivolous, and their opponents, the standard-bearers, all living in a world that the dense glitter of alternatives made it hard for love and work to penetrate. If these values were in themselves sterile, they looked all the more ridiculous after two generations of disinheritance. (p. 28)

And:

Above all, she was a baby, not a 'big baby' like so many adults, but a small baby perfectly preserved in the pickling jar of money, alcohol and fantasy. (p. 76)

And:

No doubt his grandmother and his great-grandfather had hoped to empower a senator, enrich a great art collection or encourage a dazzling marriage, but in the end they had mainly subsidized idleness, drunkenness, treachery and divorce. (p. 114)

If Patrick Melrose does not turn out a hero after lo these 1,000 pages with him (Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother's Milk and At Last), he at least turns out a workable human being. He is an unusual canvas for a writer to choose, and his wife, oddly, is the flattest of all his creator's characters. But the hours a reader spends with him, especially after the monstrous goings-on in the first two novels, are a refined and perhaps decadent sort of pleasure - the very thing Melrose might rail against.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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MountainShelby Do you recommend reading the novels sequentially?


Bart Yes, I definitely do. I think they're outrageously good, beginning to end.


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