Szplug's Reviews > Never Mind

Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn
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May 17, 12

It is obvious from the very opening paragraphs of Never Mind that St. Aubyn can write with a skillful elegance that summons the descriptor effortless from the vocabular storage banks held recessed in the depths behind one's eyes; and nowhere does this compositional ease display itself more readily than in the dialogue between the handful of English aristocrats and upper-class aspirants, vacationing within the coastal inclines of Provence, who comprise the cast of this early nineties novel. He captures the tone, cadence, and expressiveness of English privilege with a precision that is nuanced and natural; and the amount of malice and venom that can be compressed within an offhand remark, or succinct bon mot, is indicative of the spontaneously cruel and witty craftsmanship required of those who would joust amongst the colloquial alpha society of Island Blue Bloods. It is the best sort of writing, in its way, graceful and lithe, adeptly placed, paced, and proportioned without ever being overly ornate or dauntingly dense—quality matched with clarity throughout.

But I have to admit, I've got problems with this, to the degree that, having finished Never Mind, I am going to be returning St. Aubyn's collection to the futures market. Why is this the case? For me, it is the story itself, in that the material appears to neither match nor merit the quality with clarity that St. Aubyn proves so judicious in meting out. Never Mind presents the reader with an (abbreviated) day in the opulent but idle existence of the Melrose family—cruel, manipulative, and charismatic David, the father; the neurotic and ambidextrously-addicted mother, Eleanor; and their five year old son, Patrick, victim to both his mother's cringing self-absorption, anxieties and careless neglect and his father's sadistic determination to disabuse his son, often brutally, of any illusions the child may be harbouring about innocence. Converging upon this thoroughly gruesome domestic idyll are a pair of couples—one bearing a representative from the debased English aristocracy—Nicholas Pratt, a soft and rather ridiculous fop whose jocose self-deprecation serves to shield his personal diminution around David Melrose—and Pratt's current youthful bedmate; the other an established English academic who desires to ascend from being a middle-class jew into the ranks of the upper tier—though the price of admission apparently requires cultivating their same monstrous mannerisms and cutting snobbery—and his American wife, a reasonably sensible woman immune to the Old World upper-crust charms of David Melrose and his coterie.

The Melrose household is a toxic environment, a microcosm of the peculiar olio of self-confidence and self-loathing, pride and despair, amused detachment and confused alienation, boundless good-taste and grotesque over-indulgence, that has been the daily repast for those wealthy beyond all measure and who yet have no meaning in their lives, no responsibilities or obligations to fulfill beyond gratifying their indolent inclinations. In particular, there is a pecking order in which members in good standing are shuffled about as tongues perform their lashings, and arrivistes endure humiliation in order to dish out the same to those they have been elevated sufficient to look down upon. And this is a goodly portion of the novel. Nothing much happens other than our intrusive eavesdropping upon this select environ of a degenerate aristocracy, whose life of luxury—quite often attained through adroit marriages between financially strained noble scions with the appropriate heiresses of capitalist riches—has only served to strip them of all discernible or revealable traces of human desire, dreams, or feeling; the result being the ritualistic, banal, death-by-a-thousand-quips routine of clubbing and dinner parties where the top dogs maul their nervous inferiors when both are not combined in savaging friends and acquaintances who have the (mis)fortune not to be present. In this slim story, the few chapters spared to Patrick seem insufficient—we are introduced to this profoundly lonely and disturbingly angry child, observe him suffer a stomach-churning assault from his father and then burn in hostile resentment from various places of concealment for the remainder; it's enough to merit shock and sympathy, but generalized and without anything more. The part about Victor, the academic aspirant, and his writer's block within this circle he is trying to square, is equally sparsely set. It was enjoyable to read, in a manner, but there was really very little substance to it. It is a beautifully designed shell constructed around a hollow core.

I must be getting old. Or perhaps, having surrounded myself with the towering ranks of thousands of books all making their shelf- or stack-bound pleas for a turn in the spotlight, I'm becoming unwilling to pass that increasingly precious reading time upon material that doesn't strike me in whatever mood I happen to be in. These days I'm hard-pressed at work and basking in the unexpected, but gloriously appreciated, arrival of stunningly beautiful weather, in which such depressing and, ultimately, pointless fictional forays fail to exert the allure they might have done had this book been attempted back when the sun had been taken into witness protection against the omnipresent lowering clouds and endless pissing rain. Whatever the truth behind the situation, I believe I shall pass on presently resuming the tale of Patrick Melrose, the poor little rich kid. It's nothing against St. Aubyn's skills or his presentation, but rather that the story he has chosen herein to tell—amusing and clever and horrific though it be—merely elicits a shoulder-shrugging so what?
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message 1: by knig (new)

knig Aprops the sunshine, I know exactly what you mean. Its practically summer solstice here (sun rises at 4 am, sets at 10 pmish), birds are chirping, people are walking around practically naked (actually, this happens whenever the mercury hits 10*, since normally thats like an english summer) and I'm trying to read Lovecraft, who is all about darkness, dreariness, desolation and gray pastiche. Its not happening. I don't know what to doooooo.

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