In this mordant British comedy, a father determined to protect his sons from the miseries of his own childhood inadvertently initiates new and different ordeals for his family.
At the birth of his elder son Robert, Patrick Melrose, an established barrister married to Mary, wonders why no license is required for parenting, when one is necessary to own a dog or drive a car. By the time Thomas comes along five years later, Patrick has worked himself into a froth of neurotic projections. His sadistic father never failed to raise “the hurdle at the last moment to make sure that Patrick cracked his shins.” How can he keep his own accumulated sadness and rage from affecting his beloved boys? Why does his wife prefer to take their infant son to bed instead of him? And does that give him dispensation to have an affair? Meantime, Patrick’s mother asks him to draw up legal documents that leave all her money and her fabulous French farmhouse to a New Age shaman. (Torn between duty and matricide, Patrick ultimately complies with his own disinheritance.) The tale is told in four sections, each set a year apart, in August, when the Melrose family “enjoys” their summer vacations. The points of view change with each section, beginning with Robert who, even at age five, understands his father better than Patrick does himself; next is Patrick, who quaffs great quantities of liquor in a vain attempt to mute his pugilistic sarcasm, which always results in making things worse; then Mary, who redoubles her dedication to her thriving sons as Patrick self-destructs; and finally, the whole family, as they learn where true wealth lies. St. Aubyn (Some Hope, 2003) touchingly conveys the near-clairvoyance of deep familial attachment—especially between parent and child—but certain plot elements seem to hew to a logic outside the framework of the tale, undermining its emotional impact.
Entertaining, but the milk here is decidedly skim.