AT LAST BY EDWARD ST. AUBYN: (your mother’s) death is the beginning

I had not read any of the preceding novels about the Melrose family, but Edward St. Aubyn‘s At Last (the fifth and final book in the series) stands well enough on its own. In her review for The Times, Melissa Katsoulis rightfully says St. Aubyn’s “prose has an easy charm that masks a ferocious, searching intellect”. The book is told largely from the point of view of Patrick Melrose, whose perceptions in the wake of his mother’s long-anticipated death are sometimes so insightful that continuing the narrative seems momentarily unnecessary. But then there’s that charm inviting you forward. The passage below is near the very end of the book:

Perhaps whatever he thought he couldn’t stand was made up partly or entirely of the thought that he couldn’t stand it. He didn’t really know, but he had to find out, and so he opened himself up to the feeling of utter helplessness and incoherence that he supposed he had spent his life trying to avoid, and waited for it to dismember him. What happened was not what he had expected. Instead of feeling the helplessness, he felt the helplessness and compassion for the helplessness at the same time. One followed the other swiftly, just as a hand reaches out instinctively to rub a hit shin, or relieve an aching shoulder. He was after all not an infant, but a man experiencing the chaos of infancy welling up in his conscious mind. As the compassion expanded he saw himself on equal terms with his supposed persecutors, saw his parents, who appeared to be the cause of his suffering, as unhappy children with parents who appeared to be the cause of their suffering: there was no one to blame and everyone to help, and those who appeared to deserve the most blame needed the most help. For a while he stayed level with the pure inevitability of things being as they were, the ground zero of events on which skyscrapers of psychological experience were built, and as he imagined not taking his life so personally, the heavy impenetrable darkness of the inarticulacy turned into a silence that was perfectly transparent, and he saw that there was a margin of freedom, a suspension of reaction, in that clarity.


Some random quotes you might want to remember:

“Resentment is drinking the poison, and hoping that someone else will die”.

“The language of experience and the language of experiment hang like oil and water in the same test tube, never mingling except with the violence of philosophy”.

“Metaphor is the whole problem, the solvent of nightmares. At the molten heart of things everything resembles everything else: that’s the horror”.

“Not thinking about something is the surest way to remain under its influence”.

“You know it’s time to leave a party when the children start to mount a joint attack on your moral character”.


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Evan Karp