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Mother's Milk

(Patrick Melrose #4)

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  5,379 ratings  ·  506 reviews
Writing with the scathing wit and bright perceptiveness for which he has become known, celebrated English author Edward St. Aubyn creates a complex family portrait that examines the shifting allegiances between mothers, sons, and husbands. The novel’s perspective ricochets among all members of the Melrose family -- the family featured in St. Aubyn’s widely praised trilogy, ...more
Hardcover, 235 pages
Published October 11th 2005 by Grove Press, Open City Books
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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 ·  5,379 ratings  ·  506 reviews

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Justin Evans
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Judging by the goodreads reviews (which are usually very reliable), this book seems to have been mis-marketed. Readers complain that the characters are unpleasant (which you should know going in, I admit) and that St. Aubyn is 'too much of a stylist,' which sounds to me like saying a composer is 'too musical' or a basketball player is 'too athletic.' From a straight description, you might think this is akin to, say Gerard Woodward's semi-autobiographical trilogy: addiction, family issues, well-w ...more
Dec 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
The next instalment of the story of Patrick Melrose. After learning about his childhood and his appalling father in the first book we now see him as a married man. Though he makes a concerted effort to be a good father he's, not surprisingly, a pretty awful husband and soon falls prey to adultery and alcoholism. He's also constantly indulging a tendency towards self-pity which was the subject of a fair bit of the overwriting in this novel - extravagant firework displays commemorating unworthy em ...more
K.D. Absolutely
May 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: Booker shortlist; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010)
This book challenged the convention of believability in using POV. The book opens with a chapter narrated by a five-year old boy, Robert Melrose thinking and having insights of that of an intelligent adult. At first, it threw me off. Unbelievable. Who did St. Aubyn think he was? Augusten Burroughs? It took me a while before I reopened the book. I said to myself, there must be something in here. This was shortlisted in 2005 Booker Prize and a recent addition to the 1001 Books You Must Read Before ...more
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it
#4 is as hard to rate as the rest, being like them wildly uneven. At least to my taste. In Mother's Milk the characters around Patrick Melrose are no good at all, vague, phoned-in, not-quite-there; boring. But from Patrick's point of view St Aubyn's prose rockets into Cioran-ish heights of nihilist lyricism. The "sardonic harmonies" of the stupid generations are ever more obvious to our extending lifespans and bored, self-devouring domestic over-analysis. Vistas of futility, illuminated further ...more
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another five star read from Edward St. Aubyn

It is as a cumulative experience that these Patrick Melrose novels work best. There's little point just reading one as the experience only really makes sense if you treat the five short Patrick Melrose novels as one long book *

Mother's Milk (along with the rest of the Patrick Melrose novels) shares a clear lineage to both Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh which, as you don't need me to tell you, is a very positive thing.

In Mother's Milk we jump ahead to
Roman Clodia
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After what looked like an emotional breakthrough at the end of Some Hope, here we find Patrick embroiled in another - or the same? - bleak emotional landscape. It's now 2000, he's acquired a wife, now pregnant, and a 5-year old son in the break between books and the status of fatherhood leads him, perhaps inevitably, back to his own disturbed childhood: 'I'm not in any serious doubt that everything I'm going through at the moment corresponds with the texture of my infancy in some way'.

Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Whew...if you start the St Aubyn (what is the word for 1 after a trilogy?) series at the first book and read through, the character's journey from abuse to drugs to misanthropy to redemption is unlike anything I've ever read. It's on a par with Waugh for meanness and wit and flow - and that's high praise - but unlike Waugh he has a genuine conscience and wants to understand his and his character's processes. The degradation and deep amusement at the worst aspects of everyone in the first four bo ...more
Deborah Meyler
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read Never Mind and had to keep stopping to copy down sentences because I couldn't bear to let them go. St Aubyn lacerates you with the taut-wire strength of his prose and intellect - the book is profoundly beautiful and profoundly shocking. Part of the shock with all of them is one's own complicity.

Bad News is a tour de force of writing and experience - that is the emptiest of reviews, so I would just say, go and read it. You feel drowned in someone else's perception.

Some Hope made me feel
Aug 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Number four in the series and Patrick is married with children. The start of this book is amazing when we meet Patrick's first child, Robert. Really it is all nonsense as no child could possibly be like this but the writing is so beautiful and the ideas so lovely. Robert quickly became my favourite character. I was hoping that Patrick would finally find himself in this book but he has not. Understandable really as there is still one more book to go. Can't wait! ...more
"Did you know," said Patrick, addressing Seamus again, "that among the caribou herdsmen of Lapland, the top shaman gets to drink the urine of the reindeer that has eaten the magic mushrooms, and his assistant drinks the urine of the top shaman, and so on, all the way down to the lowest of the low who scramble in the snow, pleading for a splash of twelfth-generation caribou piss?"

"I didn't know that," said Seamus flatly.

"I thought it was your special field," said Patrick, surprised. "Anyhow, the
Apr 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: big-white-square
Really enjoyed this! It's clever, funny ... but it loses a star because the author faithfully touches all the familiar moans of British anti-Americanism. Americans are fat and can't fit into aeroplane seats! American food is revolting, and the pizzas not as good as European ones! American TV is mindless! Baseball is boring! Everyone who works in the American service industry pretends to be cheerful! The American approach to health and safety is infantilising! American millionaires are vulgar and ...more
Sandra Lawson
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first novel I've read by Edward St Aubyn but was captivated by his style and wit. Although Mother's Milk is one of a series of stories, there is no need to have read the predecessors as it stands on its own perfectly. The title refers to the relationships between mothers and their children, and these bonds are analysed and explored throughout the novel.

The writer veers between perspectives, writing from the viewpoints of several of the novel's characters. My greatest enjoyment came f
Apr 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
The fourth in this magnificent series. The earlier entries cycled through in turn innocence shattered, self destructive rage, and weary humour. The fourth finds Patrick Melrose in middle age and the central theme an unedifying self pitying whine of bitterness. Perhaps the only redeeming quality left is accuracy. Still very very good despite the jarring false note the hyper preciousness the author burdens the children with strikes.
Beth Bonini
Mother’s Milk, the fourth of five Patrick Melrose novels, opens with a graphic description of the birth of Patrick’s first child: “Why had they pretended to kill him when he was born?

What a brilliant, brilliant novel about the complicated relationship between mothers and their children. Author Maggie O’Farrell describes the Melrose novels as being ‘at once epic and intimate’, and I think this one best covers that range. It’s specifically about the toxic and perpetually disappointed relationship
Ben Loory
May 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
He closed his eyes and let the pool-side inferno dissipate. After a few hours of other people, he had to get the pile-up of impressions out of him one way or another; by doing impersonations, or working out how things worked, or just trying to empty his mind. Otherwise the impressions built up to a critical density and he felt as if he was going to explode.

Sometimes, when he was lying in bed, a single word like 'fear' or 'infinity' flicked the roof off the house and sucked him up into the night,
Bruno Lages
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourite-books
I’m giving this one six stars.
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, 2019
Somewhat mixed feelings: there are moments of sheer emotional brilliance and caustic wit here, but the literary ventriloquism is only partly successful for me and the "fat Americans on the plane" scene was lazy and unoriginal in its misanthropy and fatphobia.

But when it's good, it is good. I look forward to the last volume.
Athena Kennedy
Jul 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Edward St. Aubyn's quirky, scathing little novel touches on a resonant subject, which made for a surprisingly delightful and balanced read. The tale is narrated by three members of the Melrose family who are as a whole intellectual, self-centered and empty people. The narration bounces between characters with ease; from precocious 5-year old Robert who opens the book narrating the circumstances of his birth first hand in a bitter voice, to Patrick, the father of the family narrating his dissatis ...more
Jun 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

If you want to sum up Mother's Milk in a few lines, then the first stanza of Philip Larkin's This Be the Verse does a great job:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

Mother's Milk is ultimately about parenthood but things go much deeper than that.

Patrick Melrose is now forty and entering a mid life crisis. He has the responsibility of being a father and considering that he was the product of a
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
Series of 5 (or 3) books based around the life of Patrick Melrose (the first three novellas are typically published together).

Extremely good writing - beautiful use of language and real philosophical insight into a complex set of unappealing characters. In some ways reminiscent of Andreï Makine in writing style and (consciously) of Proust Marcel in its reflections on the past and portrait of a rich but declining generation. Semi-autobiographical the book's main theme is the effect of one's chil
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
These Patrick Melrose novels are rich and smart. They remind me at times of Philip Roth.
This: “’Oh, darling…are you your own worst enemy?’
‘I certainly hope so…I dread to think that would happen if somebody else turned out to be better at it than me’.”
(3.5) I’ve had mixed luck with the Patrick Melrose books thus far: Book 1, Never Mind, about Patrick’s upbringing among the badly-behaving rich in France and his sexual abuse by his father, was too acerbic for me, and I didn’t make it through Book 3, Some Hope. But Book 2, Bad News, in which Patrick has become a drug addict and learns of his father’s death, hit the sweet spot for black comedy.

Mother’s Milk showcases two of St. Aubyn’s great skills: switching effortlessly between third-person per
Regina Lemoine
Dec 24, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars, but not quite enough to round up. I liked this installment just a bit less than the others. Patrick’s sons are delightful, but all of the other characters grated on me. St. Aubyn’s prose is on point, but I never fully connected with the novel. One more to go!
Aug 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Wacky but sharp. Depressing but exceptionally witty and cutting. Another excellent book in an enthralling series
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, class-system
The Patrick Melrose novels have reached the Next Generation: Patrick is married with two sons and has replaced his illegal drug problem with a prescription drug and alcohol problem. He seems much more functional than twenty years before in Bad News, but less so than in Some Hope due to family pressures. The point of view frequently shifts to his son Robert, a precocious and unsettling child who seems like exactly the sort of boy Patrick would father. Covering a longer period than previous instal ...more
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In book four, Mother’s Milk, we find Patrick in his early forties, living with his kind and grounded wife, Mary, and their two young children, Robert and Thomas. It is a book about mothers and the influence they bring to bear on their children. More specifically, Eleanor’s failures of Patrick throughout his life; the negative impact of Patrick’s maternal grandmother on Eleanor herself; and finally, Mary’s very different approach to motherhood, one that reflects her nurturing nature and unbridled ...more
Oct 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
The fourth installment in St. Aubyn's Melrose novel takes us to an older Patrick Melrose married and the father of two children. Melrose trys to protect his children from the horrors of his own childhood. He is largely successful in this effort at least as it impacts the children however the Melrose family Patrick and his wife Mary suffer greatly as their marriage flounders and Patrickreintroduces himself to alcohol abuse and infidelity. Patrick further wrestles with his love hate ,mostly hate r ...more
Kirsty Darbyshire
Dec 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
Loved this. It's on the Booker Prize shortlist; it had the longest odds when I first looked but now I've read it the odds have shortened. At least that's how it looks from here.

Fabulous family story dealing, as the title implies, with mothers; the beginnings and the ends of lives, and the complications in between. Fabulously readable from the first page. I liked the changing viewpoints, long sections to start with and then muddling up as the story got more involved. I didn't like some of the cha
Andrew MacDonald
Oct 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Like a lot of people, the Benedict Cumberbatch miniseries turned me on to the Patrick Melrose novels. I started with this one, since I randomly happened to own it; because I'd seen the show I expected to sort of trot through the novel without too much emotional engagement, one way or another.

Well. I am a fool.

I was stunned by how slyly moving I found the novel, and how deftly St. Aubyn handles the perspective of Patrick's son, Robert, in particular, as both infant (!) and child. He's a bit les
Richard Moss
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Mother's Milk was actually the first of the Melrose sequence of novels that I read, but I have come back to it now after reading the first three of Edward St Aubyn's five novel sequence.

I enjoyed it the first time, but it has much more depth and resonance once you have read the first three Melrose books. The key to understanding Patrick Melrose is in Volume 1. Without knowing about his traumatic childhood and the horrifying incident at the centre of the first book, it would be too easy to see hi
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Reading 1001: Mother's Milk - St. Aubyn 2 9 Jan 31, 2020 07:35PM  

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Edward St Aubyn was born in London in 1960. He was educated at Westminster school and Keble college, Oxford University. He is the author of six novels, the most recent of which, ‘Mother’s Milk’, was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, won the 2007 Prix Femina Etranger and won the 2007 South Bank Show award on literature.

His first novel, ‘Never Mind’ (1992) won the Betty Trask award. This no

Other books in the series

Patrick Melrose (5 books)
  • Never Mind
  • Bad News (Patrick Melrose, #2)
  • Some Hope
  • At Last

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