The Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, and Some Hope by Edward St Aubyn

This is the third English book I’ve read in a row, not on purpose, I don’t think.  I was reading Margot Livesey’s The House on Fortune Street, but after skimming 100 pages, I just gave up.  I try to read the first 50 pages, but if I can’t get past 100 pages, it’s just not worth it.  The House on Fortune Street was about some old English twits yammering on about pointless, meaningless, banal, petty, privileged lives.  When I first started reading the first of the Patrick Melrose Novels series Never Mind, it was about old English twits yammering on etc.  But it read quicker and was more interesting so I stuck with it, despite the fact that you learn that one of those yammering twits is an incestuous pedophile, and the victim is Patrick Melrose, and the novels are basically the life of Patrick Melrose.  I would have quit after the first short novel, but then it ended and started the next novel strictly focused on Patrick, and he seemed an interesting enough character to justify continuing. 

 Interestingly enough, I uploaded this novel series, because I met this old man at a wine bar and asked him what his favorite book was.  When I first started reading Never Mind, I guessed that this old man was some boring, elitist, classist, pretentious Anglophile, but then when I got to the second novel, Bad News which covers the young Patrick Melrose visiting New York City and being a heroin addict, it sort of changed my mind about this old man I met at the wine bar.  What could it say about his life that this was his favorite book in life?  And what does this novel say about the author too?  I guess I have to be careful what books I recommend as they are a huge insight into someone’s life.  By the way, if I recommended any novel, it would be The Story of B.  What does that say about me?

 While the first short novel is about a bunch of dysfunctional, pretentious English twats, the second short novel is about a rich, entitled, misanthropic heroin junkie.  I wasn’t prepared for that.  I’ve read a few books about junkies, and quite frankly, they all start to read the same, the despair, the sickness, the greed, the single-mindedness, the addiction, the pathetic behavior, the anti-socialness, the hanging out with other junkie losers and shady dealers, etc.  Okay, I get it.  Bad News just reads very quickly and easily, because it is well written and grips you.  I wouldn’t say it’s overly intelligent, philosophical, or poignant.  It’s just a literary romp through trying to and getting high.  Some junkies tend to really hurt others and I guess the redeeming quality of Patrick Melrose is that he’s not overly exploitative.  I guess being rich means he doesn’t have to resort to theft, too much deception, and evil to get his next high, although keep in mind, EVERY junkie lies and few admit to doing anything shady.  He just has to wait for his next allowance payment.  I’m not entirely sure when this takes place in New York City, but since this is the story of his entire life, I would have to assume it may be in the 70’s or 80’s.  It does mention the Talking Heads playing in the background, I believe. 

 A few books ago I also read the memoirs of Jodie Sweetin, the drug addict from Full House fame.  Although, Sweetin wasn’t sexually abused, she was probably traumatized by being adopted, learning that her natural mother was a dope head in prison, and then growing up a child celebrity and not really getting to have a normal childhood with normal friends.  It just seems too deterministic that if you have a screwed up childhood, you become a dope head, but I know this is not necessarily true for everyone.  It just happens that there are certain things in childhood that help you avoid becoming a dope head.  Loving, supporting, and involved parents are certainly powerful inoculators, and when you have those kinds of parents, you tend to better manage friendships and these friends tend to help you enjoy life and not have to depend on artificial highs.  While drugs are omnipresent, you really do have to make an effort to make drugs a habit.  While you may happenstance wind up at a party with coke, one session doesn’t turn you into an addict.  Like everything in life, it takes repetition to become a habit and then an addiction.  So you actually need to work to find drugs.  You have to ask around, talk about drugs, then buy a sufficient quantity to do them regularly.  And a lot of drugs like psychedelics are not even addictive.  Then there’s the whole hierarchy of drugs.  It’s relatively innocent to do pot.  Some people will start looking at you funny if you openly do coke.  And then most of your normal friends will probably ditch you if they find out that you do meth or heroin. 

 There was a study about rats and addiction where scientists did not just give rats the opportunity to do drugs and nothing else.  In the experiment, they provided the rats with an alternative, the opportunity to hang out with other rats in a more attractive environment or do drugs, and the rats didn’t do drugs.  What we fail to realize is that as social beings, we get a natural high from social interaction.  When are left alone because our parents didn’t raise us properly, or we got traumatized so we find it difficult to handle healthy relationships, we don’t get the natural high from socialization.  We replace it with artificial or alternative highs, but we’re not just talking about drugs.  There are many people who fill the void of socializing high with the high from working out, eating, art, reading, writing, gambling, video games, Facebook, etc.  I’ll get a little philosophical here.  We live in a culture where our rulers want to divide and conquer the masses, and the best way to do this is deprive the masses of the means and support to form meaningful relationships and social networks.    

 Like the first novel, the third novel is mostly forgettable except one funny story about having dinner with Princess Margaret and how snobby she is and judgmental and when a French ambassador spills sauce on her dress, she has him get down on the ground to wipe it off.  People might think the life of a princess is wonderful, but it seems to me like it’s an oppressive role where you aren’t free to say or do what you want, that every interaction is defined by your royalty.  Likewise, the life of upper-class English people seems stuffy, oppressive, and the guilt of fortune brings entitlement and a hatred of the unfortunate.  There was a study where people played Monopoly and those who were winning developed a sense of entitlement to protect themselves from feeling guilty.  Interestingly, my next novel is about a very poor, exploited Chinese factory worker.

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