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Mothers Milk by Edward St Aubyn
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Mothers Milk (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Edward St Aubyn

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5402718,588 (3.4)46
Member:soffitta1
Title:Mothers Milk
Authors:Edward St Aubyn
Info:Pan Macmillan Paperback Omes (2006), Edition: 2nd, Paperback, 279 pages
Collections:Bookcrossing, 1001 Books Read, 1001 Books - 2012, AVILA non-challenge
Rating:****
Tags:1001 Book, Euro 1001-Library VBB, Avila - Nov

Work details

La Madre by Edward St. Aubyn (2006)

  1. 00
    Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Another book with family dysfunction at the core. Like St. Aubyn's book playful, sharp, observant, and beautifully written.
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» See also 46 mentions

English (24)  French (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Judging by the goodreads reviews (which are usually very reliable), this book seems to have been mis-marketed. Readers complain that the characters are unpleasant (which you should know going in, I admit) and that St. Aubyn is 'too much of a stylist,' which sounds to me like saying a composer is 'too musical' or a basketball player is 'too athletic.' From a straight description, you might think this is akin to, say Gerard Woodward's semi-autobiographical trilogy: addiction, family issues, well-written etc. From the blurbs, you might think it's a soap opera (Sam Lipsyte couldn't do better than 'harrowing entertainment'? I guess it's 'entertainment' if you assume that serious art is only produced in American MFA programs).

So, prospective reader, know that St. Aubyn's work is a salad, and that the ingredients are:

* Proust's essayistic novel form. As with Proust, you have to read carefully.
* Wilde's utterly unrealistic, yet brilliant, dialogue. As with Wilde, he's sometimes too clever for his own good.
* Waugh's ambivalent upper class satire.
* Richard Yates' beautifully styled misanthropy. As with Yates, it can all get a little tiring.

This is not to say he's the next Proust or Wilde, of course. But he's at least on a level with Yates.

This novel is beautifully and intelligently crafted. The opening section - told through the eyes of a 5 year old - should be ridiculously quirky, but is one of the best thirty or so pages published so far this century in English. St Aubyn clearly knows that the whole thing could be disastrous, and plays around with this fact. The shifting points of view throughout the novel are quite knowing, as well; St Aubyn refuses to insult his readers' intelligence by dumbing his work down and using old moves from the realism rulebook. At the same time, he holds on to what is valuable in the realistic tradition: a respect for the world outside of literature, the great potential of ironic narration, and the ability to put his readers into perspectives they ordinarily would not take up.

In short: an almost ideal blend of self-reflection, social thought and artistry.

The prose is so clear that it's often too easy to read: take your time, and try to understand exactly what's going on. It helps to have read the other books in the series, but it's probably not necessary. If you know this stuff going in, you'll hopefully get more out of the book than some reviewers seem to have done. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I heard an interview with St. Aubyn and wondered how I had somehow missed his books completely. Well-written and clever, this novel is rough going at times as main character struggles with his rage at his mother, who has decided to leave her estate to a charismatic Irish leader and his new-age organization. We move from the point of view of the children to the adults. The kids are lovely and well-defined, the adults...not so much. The wife is a cypher and fairly one-dimensional and I was disappointed with her utter helplessness. While admiring the structure, the sardonic wit and the language, I was glad to leave the claustrophobic mindset of the main character as he drinks himself into forgetfulness and oblivion. ( )
  tippycanoegal | Apr 1, 2013 |
This book is at times rather wickedly funny in its derision towards upper class parents and their cluelessness. At the same time, there's a bit too much self pitying amongst the middle class who don't seem to realize how well off they still are in comparison to most of the parents in the world at large. It's a rather sad statement on inheritance and euthanasia as well. The relationships are all strained and the plot events are at times a little too predictable. Still, there are some really funny moments in this one that make it an interesting read, though it is far from life changing. The dialogue is the best part usually as well as the perspective of the eldest son which is revisited every summer. In addition, the characters are written rather well and the writing style is quite engaging.

Some favorite quotes:

pg. 33 "Well," said Seamus, "I trained as a nurse with the Irish National Health."

"I'm sure that was an adequate substitute for being buried alive," said his father.

pg. 45 "When you're a child, nobody leaves you alone. If he ran away now, they would send out a search party, round him up, and entertain him to death."

pg 76 "Who was that dreadful child?" said Patrick. "I don't think I've ever seen such a sinister face. He looks like Chairman Mao on steroids."

pg. 93 "God," said Patrick. "If we got together, there would be a terrifying amount of boredom and loneliness in the room."

"Or maybe they have opposite electrical charges and they'd cancel each other out."

"Are you positively or negatively bored?"

"Positively," said Julia. "And I'm absolutely and positively lonely."

"You may have a point then," smiled Patrick. "There's something very negative about my boredom. We're going to have to conduct an experiment under strictly controlled conditions to see whether we achieve a perfect elimination of boredom or an overload of loneliness"

pg. 95 "That was the trouble with not being a psychopath. Every avenue was blocked."

pg. 111 "Exactly. Everyone thinks they're on the Earth, even when they're on somebody else's moon."

"But the Earth goes around the sun," said Robert. "Who's on the sun?"

"The sun is uninhabitable," said Patrick, relieved that they had traveled so far from the original motive of his comment. "It's only plot is to keep us going around and round."

pg. 219 "Listen," said Patrick, trying to recover as unobtrusively as possible from finding the Devil on the guest list, "When you can't move, can't speak, can't read, and know that you're losing control of your mind, depression is not a disease, it's the only reasonable response. It's cheerfulness that would require a glandular dysfunction or a supernatural force to explain it."

( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
Finally made it to the last book in his collected novels. This was so much better than the last one, "Some Hope," which was just not as well-written or as interesting as the first two. Mother's Milk is by far the best of them all: beautiful evocative writing, compelling explorations of the way language shapes (and distorts) our perceptions and of the difference between self and non-self. Beginning with Robert, and his acute description of being born, being torn away from the mother, and continuing from the perspectives of his brother, mother, and father - the latter the one who was so horribly abused in the first novel, and such an addict in the next two. ( )
  bobbieharv | Dec 30, 2012 |
The story develops over the course of 4 summers, as the family unit increases to four. The narration follows Robert at first, an uncanny young boy, and then his father, who is falling apart.

Many themes are covered in the book, mostly to do with the family. From the tension caused to a couple with the advent of children, to grievences generations old, the author shows us that the family is not merely a product of its parts, but of its past experiences, both positive and negative. Patrick and Mary, like many couples, are dealing with three generations of problems - their own, those concerning their children and aging parents. As a plea for euthenasia is expressed, a range of feelings also come up - from a sense of guilt, to duty mixed with pity.

The four main characters are very different. Robert's view of the world is remarkably clued in, especially as adults dismiss his ability to understand developing situations and to glean information from overheard conversations. He seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders, this becomes even more apparent with the birth of his younger brother, Thomas. Thomas is a happier child, though no less observant. He shares an affinity with his mother , an affinity shared between many very young children and their mothers, at the time when they have their mother's undivided attention. Patrick is jealous, a little lost, he has been usurped by his own flesh and blood. He takes refuge in prescription drugs and alcohol, but too soon that is not enough. Mary is the "thinnest" character in the book, seemingly only made whole by her role as mother, a role she throws herself into. While we do not see much of Mary the woman, in Mary the mother we do see her core strength, the lioness protecting her cubs.

Identity is another topic brought up in the book. Perhaps our identity is as much what we aren't as what we are. Mary is determined to be more present, unlike her own mother, Patrick rejects his mother's love for new age philosophy, much as his own mother rejected her own mother's wealth and standing. Indeed, in the final stage of the book, Thomas is going through his own denial phase, strongly negating the previous mark put to him.

I would recommend the book, the structure gives a freshness to the family drama, and the choice of focussing on the summer holidays, a time when the family spends the majority of their time together, helps to heighten the tension. All in all, Mother's Milk is a book that will hook you quickly, but will also make you evaluate the relationships you have with your nearest and dearest. ( )
  soffitta1 | Nov 6, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edward St. Aubynprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Juiz, Cruz RodríguezTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 144720302X, Paperback)

THE FOURTH PATRICK MELROSE NOVEL The once illustrious, once wealthy Melroses are in peril. Caught up in the wreckage of broken promises, child-rearing, adultery and assisted suicide, Patrick finds his wife Mary consumed by motherhood, his mother in thrall to a New Age foundation, and his young son Robert understanding far more than he should. But even as the family struggles against the pull of its ever-present past, a new generation brings a new tenderness, and the possibility of change.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:21 -0400)

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A brillant and scathingly funny family portrait that shows the shifting allegiances between parents, children, husbands and wives. The author combines the most excruciating pain with the driest comedy.

(summary from another edition)

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