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At Last by Edward St. Aubyn

At Last (2012)

by Edward St. Aubyn

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The five Patrick Melrose Novels are semi-autobiographical works beginning with Never Mind (1992) and ending with At Last (2012). I read the first four back-to-back and was impressed, but overwhelmed by some of the themes. It’s taken me two years to get to At Last, but I’m glad I did.

The entire novel takes place at Patrick’s mother’s funeral. Patrick abdicated planning the service to his wife Mary, and her inspired choices for readings and music paint a portrait of the woman, and prompt silent reflection among those in attendance. The service is also a vehicle for St Aubyn to take shots at those with inherited wealth, and the pain they inflict on others in the name of either preserving or burning through their inheritance.

For those meeting Patrick Melrose for the first time, St Aubyn takes care to provide just enough context by referencing major events in Patrick’s life which are central to the previous novels. This means you aren’t required to read all of the earlier books, but I think At Last is a richer experience for those who have. ( )
  lauralkeet | Jan 28, 2015 |
This book was at least as good as those that preceded it in the Patrick Melrose series. It had the same sparkling conversation and wit, the same sympathy for the characters especially the children, while wrapping up a final chapter in Patrick's journey. I loved how it ended on a note of positive possibility and I would love to know what happens next. ( )
  rosiezbanks | Jul 1, 2014 |
More mixed feelings here. This book mostly felt like a falling off, in intensity and interest, to the four previous ones, and I can't imagine how it would read without them as background -- arch, smart but soulless, perhaps, more or less as it read anyway but without the resonance the other books give to its particular moments. The ending is better than the novel deserves, but not (maybe) better than the series as a whole deserves...something I'll keep thinking about.
  rmaitzen | Feb 7, 2014 |
Just to be clear, I'm not giving this book 5 stars, I'm giving the whole Patrick Melrose series 5 stars. You can read 'Mother's Milk' without reading the 'Some Hope' trilogy, but 'At Last' will make no sense whatsoever unless you've read MM, and probably only about 80% sense unless you've read the others too. Despite which this has become a 'national bestseller!', has been reviewed ravingly, and seems to have attracted goodreads readers who hadn't read any of the other novels.

So veteran readers will know, at least in part, what to expect: gorgeous prose, Wildean wit, a host of ridiculous characters, and a fixation on what it's like to become a person when surrounded by tremendous wealth and trauma. But here, Patrick actually becomes a person, rather than falling back onto a raft of different 'substitutions for substitutions' for personhood (love, sex, drugs, mental health problems etc etc). That doesn't make it a 'happy' ending, but at least it's not distressing.

Like Foster Wallace's 'Infinite Jest,' 'At Last' sees the hero coming to accept the wisdom of addiction program cliches. Obviously the two works are very different, but I think reading them side by side could be very fruitful, particularly the different way they treat the problem of mental stability (in St Aubyn it's the intellectual sophisticate who comes to some kind of individuality, while the less intelligent wallow in the substitutions for it; in Wallace the sophisticate goes crazy, while the adorable but thuggish Don Gately is the one who finds piece), and the way they treat the problem of other people (in St Aubyn, they're necessary for stability; in DFW, they seem to be mostly obstacles to it). Also, St Aubyn is funnier.

I could go into ever greater depth on this (e.g., what's expected of 'the best writer of his generation' in England vs in the U.S.; the different treatment of different philosophical traditions; the silly/quirky nature of DFW's humor vs the biting, satirical nature of EStA's), but really, you should be out there reading all of the Melrose novels, not reading my review. ( )
3 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Four or five stars? It seemed irrelevant after following the characters for so long. This doesn't have to be the end but At Last makes sense as a caesura or a finale. At his mother's funeral, Patrick Melrose is finally free of his parents but the legacy of problems they started is still to some extent with him.

I was so glad to find this compulsively readable as I had the first three Patrick Melrose books. I gave up on Mother's Milk somewhere in the first or second chapter: being presented with the intimate detail of a future you won't have is much more difficult than anything which echoes of a difficult past. The generality being further intensified because I originally began to read the series as a substitute for talking to a particular person who has some commonalities with the author and protagonist. (Albeit in his case the source of the villainy was public school, not his father.) From the very first, though, it was clear that St Aubyn - and Patrick - has very strong and richly layered voice all his own.

Such a very wise set of books, but not at all in the trite way that must be said thousands of times on this site of pull-your-socks-up self-help books and cheesy fiction with easy, pat, conclusions. This is far more rounded. There is all the understanding and intricacy here that comes from knowing the psychology, but with a minimal use of terminology and no need to castigate or categorise simply because of what is said in books. Instead how people feel and what they do is what matters; the English tradition of detached irony, of never really meaning anything, is constantly hauled up for questioning and roughing-up, yet there is still more than enough wit and humour here. The whole series is rather in the tradition of Carl Rogers, but it's also art for the sake of art, not for the sake of prescriptive examples and answers. (Those characters who are professionally supposed to provide such things, such as Johnny, now a classical Freudian analyst, also come in for a bit of a dig.)

Having missed out book four, I knew I didn't see the significance of absolutely everything, but it was still very much possible to follow the narrative. However, I really wouldn't recommend reading At Last before at least most of the preceding novels: this is a continuation of stories that would lose a lot without the background.

Due to the personal nature of some of the reviews I've posted in the last few months, and just anyway, I want to note that I'm rather glad of the brief mentions of Nicholas Pratt's daughter... She appeared earlier as someone who had been attending NA meetings, but whom Patrick didn't consider a proper addict with big problems, just a girl who sometimes got a bit upset or did a bit too much coke; here we learn she has done a lot of therapy and has barely spoken to her parents for years. Pratt is the symbol of a culture and attitude the books savagely attack, but he's clearly not a criminal and sociopathic sadist as was Patrick's father David. He is presented simply as someone who lacks empathy and has very fixed ideas about how things should be done ... It's as if the author also acknowledges that these things in themselves can cause enough complications to some people, though not on the rare headline scale of Patrick's experience. She is barely delineated as a character but I see her as a nod to all the people like me who could say, no it really wasn't great but on the other hand I'm no Dave Peltzer (or Patrick Melrose).

It's not all psychology here; there's even more philosophy here than in the trilogy books. Patrick's deliberations on a possible afterlife and the various characters' discussions on the nature of identity are the aspects of the series I connect with least. Though - as my lack of time for such stuff is because of experiences with neurological illness and consequent resolute belief that the brain and nervous system are the substance of the soul and personality - I would be very interested to know what St. Aubyn did with these themes in Mother's Milk whilst Eleanor is suffering from Alzheimer's and the philosopher Erasmus Price is also a significant character. But what I would certainly say is that these ideas bring a very rare intellectual depth to such readable books, and a seriousness about ideas which, in the context, it's tempting to say is far more Continental than British.

Read 5-6 May 2013. ( )
  antonomasia | Aug 15, 2013 |
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'Surprised to see me?' said Nicholas Pratt, planting his walking stick on the crematorium carpet and fixing Patrick with a look of slightly aimless defiance, a habit no longer useful but too late to change.
As far as Patrick was concerned, the past was a corpse waiting to be cremated, and although his wish was about to be granted in the most literal fashion, in a furnace only a few yards from where he was standing, another kind of fire was needed to incinerate the attitudes which haunted Nancy; the psychological impact of inherited wealth, the raging desire to get rid of it and the raging desire to hang on to it; the demoralizing effect of already having what almost everyone else was sacrificing their precious lives to acquire; the more or less secret superiority and the more or less secret shame of being rich, generating their characteristic disguises; the philanthropy solution, the alcoholic solution, the mask of eccentricity, the search for salvation in perfect taste; the defeated, the idle, and the frivolous and their opponents, the standard-bearers, all living in a world that the dense glitter of alternatives made it hard for love and work to penetrate.
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For Patrick Melrose, ‘family’ is more than a double-edged sword. As friends, relations and foes trickle in to pay final respects to his mother, Eleanor – an heiress who forsook the grandeur of her upbringing for ‘good works’, freely bestowed upon everyone but her own child – Patrick finds that his transition to orphanhood isn’t necessarily the liberation he had so long imagined.

Yet as the service ends and the family gather for a final party, as conversations are overheard, danced around and concertedly avoided, amidst the social niceties and the social horrors, the calms and the rapids, Patrick begins to sense a new current. And at the end of the day, alone in his rooftop bedsit, it seems to promise some form of safety, at last.

One of the most powerful reflections on pain and acceptance, and the treacheries of family, ever written, At Last is the brilliant culmination of the Melrose books. It is a masterpiece of glittering dark comedy and profound emotional truth.
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Friends, relatives, and foes trickle in to pay final respects to Patrick's mother, Eleanor. An American heiress, Eleanor married into the British aristocracy, giving up the grandeur of her upbringing for "good works" freely bestowed on everyone but her own son, who finds himself questioning whether his transition to a life without parents will indeed be the liberation he had so long imagined.… (more)

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