Review - Mother's Milk

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
A review of the family drama Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn

Submitted: July 27, 2009

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Submitted: July 27, 2009

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Review – Mother’s Milk, Edward St. Aubyn
 
Set over four consecutive family holidays, Edward St Aubyn’s sixth novel (and the fourth to feature Patrick Melrose, of the Some Hope trilogy) empties out the bathroom cabinet of the Melrose family’s jagged emotional life.
The opening line of Mother’s Milk lands like a scud missile in your living room during Sunday afternoon tea. The first paragraph is one of the most brutally shocking I have ever read, detailing a modern, interventionist birth from the baby’s point of view. It is a clever device, and insightfully executed, which sets up the themes of the book immediately. It is not, however, representative of the narrative as a whole.
Robert, whose birth we experienced, narrates Chapter One in what later develops into an unbelievable and over worldly-wise voice. But despite his annoying precociousness, Robert is a powerful embodiment of the damage that children can sustain at the hands of blundering, self-obsessed parents. St Aubyn unflinchingly portrays the cycles of inter-generational emotional violence that plague all families, and our desperately futile attempts to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.
While these themes alone are likely to instil suicidal feelings in any reader, St Aubyn’s masterful black comedy and transcendental metaphors give the book a highly satisfying edge of comic-horror voyeurism. His multi-viewpoint interior portraits also deliver a gratifying exploration of such familial experiences as jealousy, betrayal and self-denial.
Despite the title, the hero of Mother’s Milk is undoubtedly Patrick – the intellectually brilliant, but emotionally confused and sexually frustrated father, whom St Aubyn inhabits knowingly. His acid-lashed attention detail in descriptions of the world around him (especially America) and of his own disintegrating mental state, provide moments of unadulterated reading joy.
Patrick is like a sun around which the planets of his children, wife, mother and mother-in-law must orbit. Robert is a mini version of Patrick and so shares the depth of understanding with which St Aubyn captures him, but the female characters feel less complex and only fully discovered within the context of their relationships to Patrick.
Ultimately deserving of its Booker nomination, Mother’s Milk is an addendum to the Melrose trilogy but can stand alone, as we see a new Patrick in this more mature setting. For those wanting resolution however, this is not the place to look. Patrick Melrose still has a long way to go on his path to redemption.


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