Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The 90s were awesome

I'm probably 8 or 9 in this picture. Look at that douchey popped collar!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Some Hope

8 years after the events of Bad News, Patrick Melrose is resentfully sober. He is invited to a dinner and a party in which the Princess Margaret will be attending. Patrick is in a more contemplative state of mind, and he is trying to figure out what to do with the metaphorical ghost of his father that haunts him.

This is one of the books where I see what the author is attempting to do, so I get it, but I find it unconvincing or not wholly persuasive. Some Hope is a novel of two parts: a large introduction of characters who will converge at the party, have frivolous conversations (some of which I bet are real and captured by St Aubyn) and do frivolous things only the rich can do, with the second part of the novel being the more serious Patrick's difficulty with his emotions. There's a contrast being made here, and it's quite obvious, but not annoyingly so.

The best parts of the book are clearly Patrick, whom we have been following for over four hundred pages already. It's emotionally satisfying when Patrick comes to grips with the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his tyrannical father because we have been following him. Of course, this is the "end" of the "trilogy", so there needs to be some sort of catharsis. It's contrasted against the introduction and re-introduction of characters with whom we have no emotional investment. It's a deliberate choice, and while I commend St Aubyn for the attempt, I found it not to be persuasive.

There's a better novel in here, one that focuses mostly on Patrick and doesn't push him off into the corner for three quarters of the action. Patrick's emotional development is the whole point of these romans fleuve, so I'm not sure if I enjoyed spending so much time with newly introduced characters.

Not that it was a negative experience. The party scene, an awesome trope that I have immense love for, offers the reader so many instances of Wildean wit and stunningly prescient moments of insight, such as "If the talking cure is our modern religion then narrative fatigue must be its apotheosis" which chills me to the bone with its effectiveness. Plus, the party scene is quite entertaining thanks to its negative portrayal of both the royalty and the aristocracy, most of whom are as dumb as a bag of rocks but unable to recognize such a fact.

All in all, I enjoyed the novel for the Patrick bits, less so for the party scene which dominates the text. There are still two more novels in the Patrick Melrose cycle, but I might take a break and read some of the other billion novels on my shelves.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bad News

Patrick's father has died in New York City, so Patrick hops on a plane to pick up his father's remains. He is twenty two and proud owner of a fairly nasty heroin addiction, among other addictions. He leaves behind a girlfriend he tortures verbally and a girl he's been sleeping with with whom he has nothing in common. He arrives in NYC and vows to remain sober, but this lasts only as long as the Quaaludes he purchases on arrival. He goes from lunch to dinner to night clubs, running into people he knows and getting high in bathrooms. Eventually he leaves New York with his father's ashes under his arms.

This will be a brief review, as there is not much to say. Whereas the previous book was a delight to read, this one was a bit too much work, probably related to the Hubert Selby Jr-level of detail related to heroin. If I ever wanted to know how to shoot up heroin properly, or even cocaine or how to ingest speed, this is the novel that I would turn to.

When I was fifteen, sixteen, whatever, I read edgy things like Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography, Trainspotting, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Blow, and other edgy stuff. My favourite movie in high school was Soderbergh's Traffic. I was thoroughly knowledgeable on all matters of hard drugs (although I knew next to nothing of pot - I didn't smoke pot until university and even then, only a couple times).

I think if I had read Bad News when I was in high school, I would have absolutely adored the intense details and copious descriptions of hallucinations that Patrick experiences. There's an extended sequence right in the middle in which Patrick imagines a Circe-like gathering of imagined and real people all yelling and doing whatever. I would have loved the shit out of this bit when I was 15.

Alas, I am 27 and I am not terribly interested in rich white upper class fellows getting high and hallucinating. I'm sure that St Aubyn, himself a former heroin addict, meant to write something chilling and threatening, but Patrick's highs come in the form of fantasy. One of the reasons why I liked the drug trade in fiction was the transgressive fantasy inherent. Instead of being a kid within a institution of school or middle class Canada, I could be my own entity, free of borders and nations. I could do and say whatever I want.

This is how Patrick acts. He is free of nationality (raised in France, English in origin, living in New York City prior to the text's events) and he is free of concerns related to money. He gleefully calculates the week's expense and totals it to ten thousand dollars (in 80s money). He says whatever he wants whenever he wants. He's mean, spiteful and snarky, but terribly witty as his father.

If Patrick isn't the 80s fantasy figure that I would have cherished, then I am not sure if there is any better portrait. Unfortunately, this is not a fantasy in which I wish to invest.

I suppose that reading this novel is more interesting to me as a measure of how my tastes have changed through the years. I have moved away from particularly edgy-on-purpose stuff (as I find it sophomoric) and treat my reading as exercises, rather than escapist fantasy (other than Doctor Who, of course).

Luckily, St Aubyn's spectacular prose and deft hand kept me captivated. I read the entire thing in two sittings, one short and the other a marathon. I still enjoyed the novel, but not as much as the first. This won't stop me from the reading the next three, though.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Never Mind

Patrick Melrose is five, living with his aristocratic English parents, David and Eleanor, in Lacoste, France. Nicholas and his young girlfriend are flying in from London to have a dinner party with the Melroses and their neighbour, Victor, eminent philosopher and his girlfriend Anne. This one day will mark a change in all of their lives and stand as a prologue for Patrick's life.

It's been a long time since I've reviewed a novel for my blog. It's also been a long time since I've read a novel that wasn't for school. In 2012, I think I've read four novels for my own personal pleasure. Maybe three. Instead of reading novels during this hectic time, I've been entertaining myself with plays (I've read two Yasmine Reza plays, and four or five Pulitzer Prize-winning dramas including Rabbit Hole). However, I purchased an omnibus of novels by the English author Edward St Aubyn. The omnibus collects the first four novels of a (poorly named) trilogy chronicling the life of Patrick Melrose. Each novel is somewhat short, almost on the edge of "novella" (I hate that word) so I thought I could handle it for now.

On the cover of the edition that I don't have, the one pictured, Hollinghurst calls him one of the most brilliant English novelists of his generation. While I'm not sure if I fully agree as the term novelist seems to imply some sort of expertise with the form of the novel, something St Aubyn isn't terribly experimental with (which I will get to). St Aubyn might be one of his Generation most brilliant prose stylists, rather than novelist. St Aubyn's prose is delicate and tinkling, like fingers caressing glasses of crystal filled with sparkling wine and stretches the idioms and phrases while contributing new ones. Certainly, some of the finest sentences I've ever read have found their origin in this novel.

Often, Martin Amis is credited with being one of England's finest prose stylists, as he inherits Nabokov's obsession with the manipulation of sound in text for effect, but I think St Aubyn might be more worthy of slipping the crown upon his head, simply on the scant evidence of this short novel. Each sentence slides across the mind's eye and onto the next one, concatenating lithely each time. It's quite remarkable.

St Aubyn's skill is not simply with his narration, but also with his sparkling dialogue. This is one of those novels that cries out for a film adaptation if only to hear classically trained actors such as Ralph Fiennes let slip the lovely wit. It is the type of novel in which characters are almost irritating for their sharp wit and crackling repartee.

However, all is not perfect. As aforementioned, the text's plot isn't quite all there. On one hand, it's hard to criticize the novel for its plot deficiencies when it is only one of five novels. The plot is thin and threadbare. People come to the house, have dinner and leave. The lack of climax (rather than anticlimax) is almost paradigmatic of the contemporary American short story. However, it's too long for a short story, so it must be judged as a novel, especially one that stands alone, and unfortunately, the plot comes up short. There's a lack of energy to the machinations of the plot. St Aubyn seems to display more propulsion when dealing with characters' backgrounds then pushing them through the present. It's not really the worst criticism that I can level at a novel, though, is it?

Never Mind is a fantastic read, summed up in a single word: witty.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Rolling Stones - "Don't Stop"

Normally I present these songs without comment. This time, I just want to mention that if you wanted to write a masterpiece of a disposable pop song, with a meaty riff, a catchy melody and an infectious chorus, then look no further. "Don't Stop", though not my favourite Stones song, is an absolute masterclass in crafting pop music. I am a gigantic pop music apologist, and it is my dream to write and perform pop songs. If I ever write anything as catchy as "Don't Stop" I could die happy. It's crazy to think that this song was composed in 2001, thus putting it in the late late stage of the Stones' career. Mick Jagger often gets most of the credit for the Stones' popularity, and even though this song is mostly a Jagger composition, Keith Richards' electrifying guitar skills must be mentioned. I need to find the Richards to my Jagger.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I'm not the only one who thinks...

...that our society has changed and not necessarily for the better. The title of this image from Graphjam is "Why Our Society Sucks" and I'm not fully sure if I disagree with the hyperbole. There is something fundamentally wrong with our society in which the people that need our help the most are the ones with the least amount of access to that help. My theory is that we are embarrassed about our shortcomings on the societal level. We are embarrassed to see homeless people or disadvantaged people as they remind us that we cannot achieve perfection, despite our attempts. Therefore, we internalize that and our external manifestation of it is a hypersensitivity to animals, am over-empathizing. Instead of feeling bad about people dying in film, we feel bad about the animals so that we do not have to face the idea that we should be feeling bad about the humans.