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At Last: The Final Patrick Melrose Novel by Edward St. Aubyn

At last we come to the end of the Patrick Melrose novels, and At Last does not disappoint. In fact, it feels more like a fully fleshed out narrative than the four short novels that precede it, despite its rather narrow focus on events surrounding the funeral of Patrick’s mother.

The novel’s structure is intricate, the flashbacks masterful, and the characters, my god!. St. Aubyn introduces a new character, a philosopher named Erasmus Price, whose mental meanderings had me nearly falling out of my chair, but the author also brings back several familiar characters, including the totally insufferable Nicholas Pratt, whose monologue, addressed to bereaved son Patrick, begins the book and sets the tone: “What colour would you call that suit? Aubergine? Aubergine a la crème d’oursin? I must go to Huntsman and get one knocked up. What do you mean, you have no Aubergine? Everyone was wearing it at Eleanor Melrose’s. Order a mile of it straight away! I suppose your aunt will be here soon. She’ll be an all too familiar face amidst the Aubergines. I saw her last week in New York and I’m pleased to say I was the first to tell her the tragic news about your mother. She burst into tears and ordered a croque monsieur to swallow with her second helping of diet pills. I felt sorry for her and got her asked to dinner with the Blands. Do you know Freddie Bland? He’s the smallest billionaire alive. His parents were practically dwarfs, like General and Mrs. Tom Thumb. They used to come into the room with a tremendous fanfare and then disappear under a console table. Baby Bland has taken to being serious, the way some people do in their senile twilight. She’s decided to write a book about Cubism, of all ridiculous subjects. I think it’s really part of her being a perfect wife. She knows what a state Freddie used to get into over her birthday, but thanks to her new hobby, all he has to do now is get Sotheby’s to wrap up a revolting painting of a woman with a face like a slice of watermelon by that arch fake Picasso, and he knows she’ll be over the moon.”

The Patrick Melrose who narrates At Last is, at last, an adult. At last clean. At last ready to get over himself. Which is, I guess what makes the novel so joyous. (Though I do worry a bit about Patrick’s ex wife Mary – her unerring goodness, kindness, helpfulness, make her seem almost like one of those insufferably perfect Dickens women. Sometimes I wish she’d just give Patrick a good hard smack. And no I don’t mean the heroin kind of smack.) One of the flashbacks provides a key to Patrick’s uneven liberation from the hell of his own misery. He is into his third week of rehab when, “sitting on the most secluded bench in the garden … he suddenly started to cry. There was nothing in the patch of pasty sky or the partial view of a tree that justified his feeling of aesthetic bliss; no wood pigeons thrummed on the branch, no distant opera music drifted across the lawn, no crocuses shivered at the foot of the tree. Something unseen and unprovoked had invaded his depressive gaze, and spread like a gold rush through the ruins of his tired brain. He had no control over the source of his reprieve. He had not reframed or distanced his depression; it had simply yielded to another way of being.” It seems to me that all five of the novels move the central character to this point of hope and wonder and mystery. The Patrick Melrose novels present the reader with a complex, literate, highly intelligent central character who inspires both sympathy and frustration. That St. Aubyn can create a character so entitled, angry, confused and yet sympathetic is a real achievement.