A breezy, comic novel about New-Age pretensions by an author who has since become renowned for more substantial fiction.
Before he received international acclaim with his autobiographical series of Patrick Melrose novels (Mother’s Milk, 2005, etc.)—dark, scathingly funny eviscerations of the British upper class—St. Aubyn seemed like a more conventionally comic novelist in this 1998 work, which is receiving belated American publication. It’s an engaging satire about people trying to achieve some higher cosmic consciousness while distracted by mundane affairs such as sex and money. “What else was there to do with sex and money except have misunderstandings about them?” says an heiress supporting a writer who doesn’t seem to be writing. The most fully fleshed and sympathetic male character, the closest one to a protagonist, is a British banker named Peter, who is even more disillusioned with the course of his life after falling into rapturous lust with and subsequently being forsaken by the libertine Sabine. He doesn’t even know her last name, but in this novel it seems that all roads lead to the spiritual Big Sur retreat of Esalen, where Peter falls into a deeply cosmic love with another woman while searching for clues to Sabine and where a dozen or so other characters converge for a tantric workshop that plays out like a British sex farce. The plot involves preop transsexuals, impotence, rock-star aspirations, a campaign to save the whales from AIDS, the potential for group sex with the elderly, and the smugly condescending “anti-guru guru” Adam and his partner, Yves. (Get it?) Much of the New-Age and Esalen context might have seemed dated even when written in the late 1990s, but the novel is really a romantic comedy at heart: “Everybody knew that being ‘in love’ was a state of temporary insanity, that’s why it was so important to make it last as long as possible.”
Diverting but minor early work from a major novelist.