Rebecca's Reviews > Bad News

Bad News by Edward St. Aubyn
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really liked it
bookshelves: addiction, newbury-library, laugh-out-loud, sequels, autofiction

I read the first Patrick Melrose volume, Never Mind, in June and found it so unpleasant I was unsure whether to continue with the series. I’m glad I did. This is a blackly comic look at two days in the life of a drug addict who comes to New York City to see his father’s body and take away his ashes for scattering. Oh the meals, parties and (mostly) drug-taking Patrick crams into 48 or so hours! Chapter 7 is full of the most wonderful chorus of voices that comes to him as he’s tripping. Whenever he’s not high, he’s thinking of how he will next get high – “torturing his body to gratify his mind.”

If you’re squeamish about needles and blood you might not want to pick this one up, but I found it to be a fascinating fictional counterpart to Bill Clegg’s Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, with such almost loving descriptions of the effects of drugs that you can start to see why someone would nearly destroy themselves over them: “Heroin landed purring at the base of his skull, and wrapped itself darkly around his nervous system, like a black cat curling up on its favourite cushion” and “It was coming home. It was Ithaca, the end of all his storm-tossed wanderings.”

Patrick is horrid with his misanthropic inner monologue but also often very funny, and I loved how St. Aubyn took what should be a climactic scene – coming face to face with his dead father, the monster who abused him for years – and turns it into farce. “This was it, the big moment: the corpse of his chief enemy, the ruins of his creator” … and then he’s shown into the wrong room of the funeral home and finds a lighthearted farewell taking place for a Hermann Newton. “Tu regrettes qu’il est mort?” a French dealer acquaintance asks him. “Non, absolument pas, je regrette qu’il ait vécu,” Patrick replies. [You’re sorry that he’s dead? / No, absolutely not; I regret that he lived.]

St. Aubyn delivers such excellent lines and images: crouched in the back seat of a car, Patrick finds “his hip bone was persecuting his liver”; cruising past in a cab, he sees “Crossword puzzles of lit and unlit offices slipped by cluelessly.” There are also a few nice sprinklings of the phrase “never mind,” and the novel begins and ends with a variation on the phrase “Patrick pretended to sleep.” I’m not sure I’ll read it, but when I flipped to the start of Some Hope, the next book in my library’s omnibus volume, I was pleased to see it start with “Patrick woke up.”

Another favorite passage:

“He checked the pills again (lower right pocket) and then the envelope (inside left) and then the credit cards (outer left). This nervous action, which he sometimes performed every few minutes, was like a man crossing himself before an altar – the Drugs; the Cash; and the Holy Ghost of Credit.”
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Reading Progress

June 7, 2018 – Shelved
June 7, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
June 7, 2018 – Shelved as: addiction
June 7, 2018 – Shelved as: newbury-library
September 4, 2018 – Started Reading
September 13, 2018 – Shelved as: laugh-out-loud
September 13, 2018 – Finished Reading
October 10, 2018 – Shelved as: sequels
February 19, 2019 – Shelved as: autofiction

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Warwick (new)

Warwick I found this one much harder to get through than the first book (which is the one everyone had warned me about) because I can be very squeamish about things going into bloodstreams. But so beautifully written – your quotes brought it all back.


Rebecca Warwick wrote: "I found this one much harder to get through than the first book (which is the one everyone had warned me about) because I can be very squeamish about things going into bloodstreams. But so beautifu..."

I have a weakness for medical-themed reads, but some of these descriptions of shooting up made me squirm. I'm still undecided about whether to read the rest of the series. #3 doesn't sound very appealing, but #4 does. Do you reckon I could skip one?


message 3: by Warwick (new)

Warwick Well I've only read the first three, so I couldn't say. I did enjoy 3 though! His prose always makes it worth it.


message 4: by Jonfaith (new)

Jonfaith Truly enjoyed the HBO miniseries.


Rebecca Jonfaith wrote: "Truly enjoyed the HBO miniseries."

I'd like to see that sometime. I can see how Cumberbatch would be perfect in the role.


message 6: by Cheri (new)

Cheri Terrific review, Rebecca. The quotes you included are excellent!


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