I’ve just read a long article in the New Yorker about English literary fiction writer Edward St Aubyn. The Yanks have so many great modern writers, I’m baffled as to why do they want to read this guy – as I will explain. Particularly as our idiotic Education Secretary has banned them all!
Like their peers in London, the literati of NYC like this former drug-addict, “upper-class person” who inherited a shed-load of money, and before being saved by writing a series of fiction books purporting to be about his own life, had seemed destined for self-destruction.
On the urging of two literary editors, I read At Aubyn’s “Melrose” novels. I don’t recommend them unless you are from a rich family, went to Oxford and were sexually abused by your father; or you have aspirations to become part of English ‘society’ which have never quite been realised. The former might find catharsis; the later smug satisfaction.
And now for some reason, all sorts of literary pundits are questioning why St Aubyn hasn’t been given any literary prizes, and extolling his undoubtedly well-written prose. I’m very comforted that he hasn’t won prizes, for the simple reason that I cannot see why anybody would want to read about the people and the lives he’s ‘documenting’.
To be fair I liked his description of scoring and being utterly binge-stoned in NYC. It was authentic. The Melrose novels were certainly autobiographical, but with that OTT lack of fairness that one presumes was the reason for them being published as fiction.
This New York Times article confirms my other conclusion; that his writing was therapeutic. I’d hoped these books had made him feel better. Sadly they did not do this for me.
When I finished reading the Melrose series I was baffled. These people were so mundane, trivial, nasty and full of themselves, but without anything from which one could learn. Evelyn Waugh’s “Handful of Dust” roams the same territory, but has humour as well as anger, plus Waugh’s ability to characterise his people lest we become too involved with them. I truly did not want to get involved with any of St Aubyn’s dreadful people.
And so one has to ask, why bother?
I felt sadness that such good writing should have been wasted in this way.
2 thoughts on “Edward St Aubyn Baffles Me”
Fair point re the class angle but he is a very witty writer. The funniest i’ve stumbled across for years. I’ve read the Melrose books and fully intend on reading his others. It remains to be seen if he wears out his welcome.
Thanks for the comment – which is certainly fair. I thought St Aubyn’s description of the junkie week in NYC – especially the date with the girl, very accurate; and amusing, but essentially unpleasant. His father’s sexual abuse seemed equally realistic – but with nothing to ameliorate that very deep unpleasantness. Overall, the book seemed to me pointless – which of course was one of the book’s themes. But for me, pointless to the point of not being worth reading; leaving perhaps a vicarious pleasure from reading about the dissolute rich.
Would the Melrose books be as well subscribed were they to be about a poor family with similar disfunction? Or more to the point I was making, would literary critics be as enthusiastic about the books’ literary merit?