Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mother's Milk: a novel
Some Hope: a trilogy

by Edward St. Aubyn

I just finished the absolutely stunning Mother's Milk, which features among its protagonists the main character of the trilogy Some Hope, which I read a few years ago. The author has truly mastered the craft of stream-of-consciousness, exposing the mental and emotional lives of his characters in exquisite — sometimes agonizing — detail, but in a way that's perfectly coherent and sympathetic. We're talking Virginia Woolf-style stream of consciousness, not the staccato jibber-jabber or random ramblings that some writers have produced. It's meant to be a stream, after all, flowing and connected.

As you might guess from the author's name, St. Aubyn, he has some other things in common with Woolf: his characters are upper- or upper-middle-class, and they're unfulfilled. They have the sort of first-world crises that it's become fashionable to mock. Now, I suppose it's rather first-world of me, but I don't think one needs a genocidal war or Oprah's-Book-Club-style tragedy to write an interesting book. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that it's a bit cheap and easy to write about a catastrophe of some sort, and more challenging to root out the tiny personal catastrophes and make the reader care about them.

Unlike the novels by Woolf, there's a dark humor and hedonistic ennui woven through the existential angst. In some ways, it reminds me of Douglas Coupland or even Chuck Palahniuk; in particular it brough to mind A Spot of Bother, which I reviewed here.

A strong recommendation for Anglophiles, fans of dysfunctional families, and those looking for something more literary, but still contemporary, than much of today's popular fiction. Some Hope is very good, but Mother's Milk even better — enough to gain a provisional spot in my Top 10.

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