A London funeral stirs up a lot of memories but few epiphanies in this British author’s latest, which concludes a trilogy.
You may remember the protagonist, Patrick Melrose. He was the one with the evil father in Some Hope (2003), and a father himself, alcoholic and self-destructive, in Mother’s Milk (2006). Since then he has separated from his wife Mary and their two sons and exiled himself to a small studio, after a month at a Suicide Observation Room in a mental hospital, where he managed to dry out. Now, after two mute years in a wheelchair, his mother Eleanor has died, making Patrick a 45-year-old orphan. The action, such as it is, covers the crematorium funeral and subsequent reception; mixed in are family memories. The most jolting, though they cover some old ground, are those of David, Patrick’s father. He raped Eleanor (Patrick was the product); later he raped his son and other kids; he almost killed Eleanor before she divorced him. Patrick’s sour take is that his mother was a masochist who colluded in David’s crimes; he says, more than once, that her death is a relief. St. Aubyn also delves into Eleanor’s background: a fabulously wealthy American family, scarred by divorce and alcoholism. Her extravagant sister Nancy, present at the funeral, is the sad result; she’s been stealing and freeloading all her life. (Why are trust funds never big enough?) Eleanor though, a kooky philanthropist, gave everything away to a New Age foundation. After the service (it begins with a Porgy and Bess song and ends with Sinatra) the chatter rises to a crescendo. Back in his studio Patrick, more forgiving now, sees his “supposed persecutors,” his parents, as “unhappy children” themselves. It’s a curious conclusion.
St. Aubyn tries for a Muriel Spark kind of black comedy but lacks her finesse.