At Last: A Novel Hardcover – Jan 31 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
This audiobook starts off innocently enough—with a few minutes of bright, punchy Christmas music—but as we meet each resident of Pine Cove, Calif., the story bends, becoming as twisted as an image in a funhouse mirror. Lena Marquez is the sanest of the bunch, even if she does have a habit of wreaking violence on her ex-husband, known here as the "Evil Developer." Then there's Lena's best friend Molly, a former B-movie actress who hears voices, occasionally believes herself to be "The Warrior Babe of the Outland" and is married to the town constable, Theo, a former pot addict who's slipping off the wagon. To top that off, there's Tucker, a lonely pilot who has a Micronesian fruit bat for a pet, and a rather witless archangel named Raziel who comes to Earth to grant one boy's Christmas wish. It is that wish which turns this Christmas comedy into a holiday horror story. Roberts narrates the whole affair with skill, using his warm, hearty voice to great effect. His is the kind of voice that one would expect to hear in the audio version of A Christmas Carol or a children's storybook, which makes him the perfect reader for this book since it is, in part, a parody of the Christmas classics—albeit a gruesomely entertaining one. Whether crooning a few bars of the blues, personifying the dead or delivering one of the story's uplifting messages ("Life is messy. People generally suck"), Roberts's velvet voice rings with mirth, accentuating the humor and absurdity of each moment.
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“ . . . one of the most amazing reading experiences I've had in a decade. After all the suffering and torment and despair that Patrick Melrose has been through over the years, [St. Aubyn] leaves him in a very interesting place, and he does it all with his incredible examination of the sweep of time and the way our understanding of people changes over decades. All of that is done with this incredible, biting, witty, hilarious prose style, the elegant, classic English sentences that he writes and these amazing put-downs, and he's great at dissecting an entire social world with a really wicked scalpel.” ―Michael Chabon, The Los Angeles Times
“Remarkable . . . In order to understand what makes these novels so exceptional, it's better to open any one of them at random, marveling at the precise observations and glistening turns of phrase, not to mention dialogue witty enough to make our own most clever conversations sound like . . . well, like St. Aubyn's Princess Margaret.” ―Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review
“[At Last] offers up everything that one could hope for in a good novel.” ―Christopher A. Gellert, The Washington Square New
“St. Aubyn's skill with characterization, his dissection of how a personality warps, settles, or improves over time, is nowhere more evident than in his aging of Patrick, whose mood and mental state are a gauge for the tone of each novel. . . At Last is far less dramatic than any previous Melrose book, although the humor and perfectly observed dialogue remain. Its calm is entirely suited to the wisdom Patrick Melrose has painfully, finally earned.” ―Victoria Beale, The New Republic
“St. Aubyn writes with exquisite control and a brilliant comic touch. . . An intelligent and surprisingly hopeful novel, a fitting conclusion to one of the best fictional cycles in contemporary fiction.” ―Anthony Domestico, The Boston Globe
“You have to drill down pretty far and pretty mercilessly to get to the vulnerable, human soul of someone like Patrick. But St. Aubyn does, and he mines extraordinary amounts of humor and pathos out of Patrick's thin, bedraggled life. . . St. Aubyn's prose recalls Virginia Woolf's; it has the same combination of lyricism and precision.” ―Lev Grossman, Time
“Piercing. . . Mr. St. Aubyn shares Patrick's gift for observation, and his radar for pictorial and emotional detail enables him to capture just about anything in his pointillist prose.” ―Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“On every page of St. Aubyn's work is a sentence or a paragraph that prompts a laugh, or a moment of enriched comprehension.” ―James Wood, The New Yorker
“Delightfully packed with gross privilege, dysfunction, and savage humor.” ―Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn, The Paris Review (staff pick)
“St. Aubyn's humor and elegance transform harrowing subject matter into irresistible prose.” ―Maura Egan, W Magazine
“With lacerating humor and razor sharp imagery, St. Aubyn continues to work out his themes: the follies of the British upper class, the 'psychological impact of inherited wealth,' the complex dynamics between parent and child.” ―Mary Ellen Quinn, Booklist
“Stunning, sparkling fiction. . . Deeply affecting.” ―Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“It's tough competition for the most-underrated writer in the English language--there's plenty of neglect to go around -- but if you put a Colt Commander to my head (see below) I might well say it's St. Aubyn, the chronically under-published chronicler of abuse, dysfunction, alcoholism and worse in the English upper classes. At Last is the final novel, one thinks, in his series about his alter ego, the neurotic Patrick Melrose. It's pretty much a lock to be one of the funniest, saddest, most beautiful books of the year.” ―Lev Grossman, Time
“The Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn are a masterwork for the 21st century. Written by one of our greatest English prose stylists, they present a cornucopia of humor, pathos, razor sharp judgment, pain, joy, and everything in between.” ―Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones
“Sparkling . . . With the wit of Wilde, the lightness of Wodehouse, and the waspishness of Waugh, [St. Aubyn] wraps his fancy prose style around the self in extremis ("suffocated, dropped, born of raped as well as born to be raped"), situations more familiar to readers of Cooper or Burroughs.” ―Zadie Smith, Harper's
“A miraculously wrought piece of art.” ―Suzi Feay, The Financial Times
“St. Aubyn's technique is to crystallise emotional intensity into sentences of arctic beauty, which can be caustically witty or brutal. His novels are uncommonly well controlled, and thus their impact is all the more powerful… In At Last this crystallisation and control are on glittering display…We have reached the pinnacle of a series that has plunged into darkness and risen towards light. At Last is both resounding end and hopeful beginning.” ―Philip Womack, The Telegraph
“Ferociously funny, painfully acute and exhilaratingly written. . . Brimming with witty flair, sardonic perceptiveness and literary finesse.” ―Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times
“The thing that everyone loves about this man . . . is that his prose has an easy charm that masks a ferocious, searching intellect. As a sketcher of character, his wit -- whether turned against pointless members of the aristocracy or hopeless crack dealers -- is ticklingly wicked. As an analyser of broken minds and tired hearts he is as energetic, careful and creative as the perfect shrink. And when it comes to spinning a good yarn, whether over the grand scale of three volumes or within a single page of anecdote, he has a natural talent for keeping you on the edge of your seat . . . [An] amazing book.” ―Melissa Katsoulis, The TimesSee all Product Description
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Along the way we get comic relief from Fleur, a batty lady who adheres to fringe Eastern religious beliefs and from the unique Nicholas Pratt. Mr. Pratt, a snarky, opinionated, educated older gentleman, shows up at the funeral and bestows his sarcasm on anyone within range. Overall in this book though, class is a setting, not a central subject.
The depth of understanding, the intelligence about the human condition St. Aubyn shows in this book puts it in the same league as "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann and more recently, "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes. The British Invasion!
No Patrick is no longer a kid, but since we begin to care about him when he's just 5 and we see him grow and regress, learn and unlearn, come within a whisper of dying and then heal, we care for him the way we do with those we've loved over a long time. And we root for them in a deep, real way. So when Patrick decides to leave the lonely bedsit and make that phone call, well I took a long, happy deep breath and wished them all the best.
By the way, the reviewers who complain about the boys clearly don't know any precocious children. I find them both believable and damn adorable, and I've known a few small people who could hold their own with both of them.
You may not like Patrick -- he's one roiling mass of insecurities and inconstancies -- but find yourself loving him all the more. Edward St. Aubyn's novels trace Patrick's harrowing life from (to quote some horse-racing announcer whose name I've forgotten) first fall to that's all. He subjects Patrick to a litany of horrors that would make Guido de Montefeltro reconsider. Really wicked rich people do terrible things to each other and their children for almost 800 pages -- you'll never again want to be part of the .0001%. St. Aubyn spares nobody, not even Patrick, and you may find yourself wondering as I did why you are plowing ahead like an oversized lemming when you could be cooking dinner. It's not much fun, but it's amazing.
Except that AT LAST, there is the possibility of reconciliation, recovery, even redemption for Patrick. And always, always, there is the wit. I laughed out loud 742 times, a personal record. And always there are those incredible sentences, the kind you want to read aloud to a friend in another time zone. If you need a plot, look elsewhere. If you crave action, try Jo Nesbo. If you need a moral, well, go to church. But if you continue to believe in the transcendence of fiction, pick up/download the PATRICK MELROSE NOVELS, read them (in sequence, of course), and rediscover what it means to tell a story.
I'd also add that if you are thinking of taking this route, you might want to stop reading this review at this point. While it's possible to give a taste of "At Last" without spoilers, the story follows on from "Mother's Milk", so the very set up means that if you don't want to know what happens, you might want to look away now.
St Aubyn's subjects are very much the upper class elite - and their self-centred behaviour as they squander their inheritances. That might not be to everyone's taste as a subject matter and certainly it isn't the life that most of us lead. But he sends them up beautifully and you will soon be laughing and shaking your head at their attitudes. St Aubyn's style is waspishly funny - for me, he is like a slightly more literary, English version of Brett Easton Ellis. There's a similar level of shock and bad behaviour, but he's a more humane writer than Easton Ellis.
OK, so I'm hoping that all those who plan on reading "Mother's Milk" have now left the room so I can reveal that the setting for "At Last" is the funeral of Eleanor - the mother who so infuriated her son Patrick in "Mother's Milk". As various characters, some of whom will be familiar from the earlier books. gather to see her off, most of them are wrapped up in their own thoughts and obsessions. There's the new age advocate Annette, the curmudgeonly family friend Nicholas Pratt and the supremely selfish Aunt Nancy to name but a few. At least Patrick seems to have recovered from some of his former vices, but will Eleanor's passing allow him to finally make peace with the past? St Aubyn is adept at creating a clear picture of these eccentrics with a few deft descriptions.
It's certainly true that most readers won't identify much with St Aubyn's eccentric and wealthy characters and if that means that you will struggle to build an emotional bond to them, then this book may not be for you.
St Aubyn's wickedly funny observations drip off almost every page. He delivers one line observations that would do any stand up comic proud, all wrapped in an intelligent and thoughtful prose style. There are a number of laugh out loud moments as well as some thoughtful investigation of the psychological damage that people inherit from their parents. The whole book is set on one day at the crematorium and the subsequent wake - and St Aubyn is certainly not the first writer to recognise the comic potential of these events which gather disparate people together. All knew Eleanor in different ways, and perhaps Patrick's experience of her is not the whole story.
It's a very satisfying conclusion to "Mother's Milk", but I'm less convinced that it stands as well as a novel in it's own right. It's more the conclusion of a story arc started elsewhere than a satisfying read in itself.