The Short Version: Crashing out of his twenties into a sober and vaguely respectable thirty, Patrick Melrose finds himself vaguely adrift at a party in the English countryside. He’s starting to get over the scars of his childhood and realizing that, perhaps, this world isn’t the one he necessarily wants to inhabit.
The Review: Ah-ha. There it is. The first two novels were “the flailing British aristocracy” as seen through the microcosm of one man. This is the broader novel, reminding us exactly what we’re dealing with in the big picture. Patrick is, obviously, the main character still – but he’s sharing the narrative thrust with quite a cast of characters, including but not limited to Princess Margaret. Yes, that Princess Margaret.
So this episode in Patrick’s life is relatively uneventful – he’s a bit boring now, by the rest of his life’s standards anyway. It’s a party at a friend’s house – well, I say friend. We see various figures from the two previous novels, including the boorish gentlemen who sent Patrick into paroxysms of nerves at lunch in Bad News and Anne appears one more time to give Patrick a breath of fresh air. Really, it’s a slice-of-life novel with a little bit of development for Patrick included. The development, of course, comes mostly at the tops and tails: Patrick tells his friend Johnny (the one who he expected to pick him up with drugs in tow at the end of Bad News) about his father’s sexual abuse over dinner and, later, finds himself being rather paternal towards a young lady who reminds him a bit of himself at that age…
The end of the novel is a remarkable moment of growth for Patrick. We all know the feeling of standing alone somewhere peaceful and having a moment with our thoughts. Standing in the snow, smoking his last cigarette, looking out at the frosted lake and the swans… it’s a beautiful, quiet moment and a gorgeous end to the novel – one that reminds the reader who may’ve forgotten that Patrick is, indeed, the thrust of the series. We get to see the whole novel in a different light because of that moment, although every single time Patrick appears, we’re reminded that he’s growing up in front of our eyes. He’s embarrassed about the things that he’s done – he’s even saddened at having lost his long-time girlfriend, who he certainly didn’t respect let alone love. But, at thirty years old, he has left behind the tragedies of his childhood and the rebellion of his youth to become a genuine man. Hell, I’m 23 and I struggle with not quite being grownup yet and while I think Patrick’s struggles are notably different from mine… I commiserate with him. But I also commiserate with him because I’ve been with him for so long now. I watched him raped, I saw him in the darkest depths of addiction trying to run from his past, and now I’m watching him actually start to rationalize things. To come to terms with them. It’s the sort of long-form progress you can only get over the course of several stories. It’s impossible to develop a character this well in a single novel.
Actually, I wonder what it’d’ve been like to read this novel without the two that came before. Bad News could exist on its own as, obviously, could Never Mind – but Some Hope would seem strangely out of context if read alone. While it’s entertaining alone as a description of a ridiculous upper-class British party, it’s the logical next step for Patrick’s life and only truly logical in that sense. Unless you’re into the Noel Coward hilarity that ensues at such places.
Noel Coward’s name is dropped several times, actually.
Anyway. It’s strange: I have fewer things to say about this novel but I think I actually liked it better than Bad News. It was still a carousel of narrators and characters, spinning round and round arguing and laughing and cheating and lying and pretending they still matter. It was incredibly evocative, too. I spent a considerable amount of the novel wishing I’d been at this party. But I also know that I’d likely’ve been just like Patrick (and everyone else, really) in feeling bored by it, constrained by it. Feeling over it.
In fact, I’ve been to those parties. Not on such a level, of course, but house parties with rich kids on the Main Line? Yeah, I’ve been there.
Rating: 5 out of 5. I think the novel is, in the scope of things, a little unimportant. Yes, Patrick’s development is important to see – but I think the novel itself is the simplest kind of treasure. The simplest kind of pleasure. It’s a novel about a party and it is just as much fun – and as painful – as the best kind of parties can be. It has St. Aubyn’s lyricism and his brilliant wit – but it also shows a level of maturity in being about something that isn’t momentous. It isn’t a drug binge, it isn’t the first rape, it isn’t anything – and that’s why it’s so powerful and so brilliant.