I had heard much talk of how good a writer Edward St. Aubyn is, but even so, I was mostly unprepared to find his mastery of the written word to be unlI had heard much talk of how good a writer Edward St. Aubyn is, but even so, I was mostly unprepared to find his mastery of the written word to be unlike anything I had ever experienced, and as I read through Never Mind I often found myself totally caught in awe of his delicate and confident writing.
Admittedly, after finishing the first couple of chapters and taking only little enjoyment from them, I worried it was to be a classic case of style over substance, but it wasn’t too much longer until I found myself entirely engrossed in these awful people and their decadent narrative.
While I understand that the series’ focus lies with Patrick Melrose, here at just five years old Patrick’s role is relatively stunted and wholly tragic. Even so, I like that he was given a voice and I am led to assume that this initial novel serves as a cruel set-up to his further misadventures.
The six main characters that lie at the centre of Never Mind are all so well realised, that when the book climaxes at the Melrose dinner party, and they are all finally placed in the same room, the resulting dialogue is witty, nuanced, and a sheer joy to read. They all despise one another so bitterly that all of the snide comments and philosophical put-downs that are thrown between forced smiles and top-ups make for some of the most humorous and engaging writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
St. Aubyn is such a sickeningly good writer, and I enjoyed hating these wanton snobs so much that I’m left near-insatiable for the next book in the series.
Never Mind serves as further evidence (as if any were needed) that the wealthy are definitely not exempt from depravity....more
I can't stop thinking about this book. I finished reading it a few weeks ago, but it's been kicking around in my head ever since.
Last Exit To BrooklynI can't stop thinking about this book. I finished reading it a few weeks ago, but it's been kicking around in my head ever since.
Last Exit To Brooklyn is split into six parts, each with it's own central characters and themes. Occasionally, characters cross over into each other's stories which helps make the text feel like one coherent universe. Each vignette follows a Brooklyn resident's sad, measured tale, and each is abundant with incidents of extreme violence, dangerous sex, and complex moral issues. This culminates in 'Landsend' - a seventy page account of life in a lower class Brooklyn housing project, which was probably my favourite part of the book.
Ultimately, reading this book made me low. I was surprised at how great an effect it had on my mood, and I found certain parts genuinely uncomfortable to read. There were numerous times where I’d put the book down and just have to think about what had happened and how I felt about it before I was ready to read more. There is some distressing material, and its graphic description is certainly not for the faint of heart. It's a far grittier depiction of post-depression era USA than some of the other books I’ve read. I guess it took me by surprise.
Interestingly, I've heard a number of complaints about the writing style and Selby’s lack of punctuation, with claims that it makes the book clumsy and difficult to read. While I can appreciate this argument, I encountered no problems, immediately settling in to this style and in fact found that, similarly to the reasoning for the dismissal of punctuation, the text was given a natural rhythm, and it became easier and quicker to read as a result. That said, the overall pacing of the book did cause me some slight trouble - a relatively long story takes up the middle two thirds - and there were times during the middle section of ‘Strike' where I bordered on disinterested.
After thinking on the book for a couple of weeks and wondering exactly what had affected me so much, I'm drawn to the idea that it's Selby's characterisation of these Brooklynites that saw me become so invested. Through their depiction it's easy to feel empathy for Harry the union leader, who's repressed sexuality looms frustratingly over him, and it's easy to feel the hopeless pain of Tralala the teenage prostitute. Within just a few lines, and with virtually no back story, Selby bears these characters’ souls - the essence of who they are and what they need - and it results in some of the most visceral, interesting, and most importantly real characters that I've ever had the pleasure of reading.
Last Exit To Brooklyn is a difficult book to recommend. It’s easy to see why someone might not enjoy reading it. There’s a lot of material in here to be offended by, and an equal amount that might not hold any interest, but I really enjoyed reading it and the experience of having it stick in my brain long after. This is a fantastic book that now really means a lot to me, and I'm excited to become acquainted with more of Hubert Selby Jr's characters. Even if they do bring me down....more