Patrick Melrose is incredibly wealthy, a duchess's grandson who survives neglect from an alcoholic mother, abuse (mental, physical, and sexual) at the hands of a monstrous father, and his own adolescent descent into drug-fueled self-annihilation. He is also the fictional alter ego of the British writer Edward St. Aubyn, who–in a series of brilliant semi-autobiographical novels that have garnered admiration from Zadie Smith, Sam Lipsyte, and Alan Hollinghurst–has chronicled Patrick's life among the idle rich from childhood to middle age.
Some twenty years after Patrick was introduced, this month sees the publication of the latest and possibly final installment in the series, At Last (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25), and fortunately for readers who have missed the phenomenon, the first four books have just been collected into a single new paperback omnibus, The Patrick Melrose Novels (Picador, $20).
Misanthropy, cruel mind games, suicide, and rape are common topics in all five books–not for the weak of spirit. But despite the troubling subject matter, these are addictive and enormously enjoyable novels, full of juicy dialogue, narrative acrobatics, and expert characterization, something like P.G. Wodehouse if Blandings Castle were populated by sadistic failures skilled at manipulation and ridicule. But St. Aubyn's gift for language and invention isn't the only draw here. As readers follow Patrick from his first appearance in Never Mind (in which he is raped at the age of five by his father) to the just-published fifth novel, At Last (which takes place at the memorial service of Patrick's charity-obsessed mother), they are given witness to a tremendously moving depiction of recovery and survival, without a drop of sentimentality to sully or dilute the experience.