Connect with us

Thai Life

Books: At Last – Melrose finds his place

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: Edward St Aubyn’s At Last (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 2012, 266pp) is the highly satisfying finale to his Patrick Melrose series of five novels. This is a towering achievement in fiction, psychologically intense, philosophically deep, screamingly funny.

Introduced at the age of five in the first novel, Patrick Melrose grows up to be a highly educated heroin-and-cocaine junkie in the second, a recovering addict in the third and a husband and father in the fourth.

The final novel takes place on the day of his mother’s funeral in London. It’s the second happiest day of Patrick’s life. The first was two decades earlier when he collected his father’s ashes in New York. His father David had raped him at the age of five; his mother Eleanor ignored him and finally squandered the last of his patrimony, a beloved villa in the South of France, by donating it to a ditzy New Age cult. An orphan at last, Patrick Melrose envies the Oliver Twists of this world:

“Patient endurance of potentially lethal influences has made Patrick the man he was today, living alone in a bedsit, only a year away from his latest visit to the Suicide Observation Room in the Depression Wing of the Priory Hospital. It had felt so ancestral to have delirium tremens, to bow down, after his disobedient youth as a junkie, to the shattering banality of alcohol.”

Gathered at the funeral are major characters of the previous four novels: Patrick’s longsuffering wife Mary, his preternaturally precocious sons Robert, 10 and Thomas, 6, his former lover Julia, his best friend Johnny Hall, his rich Uncle Henry, his broke sponger Aunt Nancy, his utterly selfish mother-in-law Kettle, his mother’s cult sycophant Annette, philosopher Erasmus Price and his horrid wife Emily who “had three main drawbacks: she was incapable of saying please, incapable of saying thank you, and incapable of saying sorry, all the while creating a surge in demand for these expressions”.

Also at the funeral is Nicholas Pratt, his hated father’s best friend, the last survivor of his social circle of aristocratic monsters. Spewing acerbic observations, Nicholas makes Oscar Wilde look tongue-tied. His presence puts Patrick in mind of yet another early childhood horror: when, at the age of three, his father grabbed him on the edge of the villa’s swimming pool.

“Suddenly he felt himself hoisted off the ground and thrown into the air. With the slowness of horror, when the density of impressions registered by the panic-stricken mind makes time thicken, he used all the incredulity and alarm that rushed into his thrashing body to distance himself from the lethal liquid… but soon enough he plunged into the drowning pool, kicking and beating the thin water…”

Meanwhile, his father sat smoking a cigar and extolling his educational methods to Nicholas Pratt.

At the funeral, favorite songs are played and guests take the lectern to recite biblical passages and inspirational poems. Eleanor’s casket rolls away to be cremated to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon.

At the reception afterward, a drunken psychiatric patient accuses Nicholas Pratt of being insane, prompting an apoplectic reply: “I have not suffered from the slightest taint of mental illness. The modern passion for pathology is a landslide that has been forced to come to a halt at some distance from my eminently sane feet.”

His long screed against psychiatry mounts into a towering rage about “that forgotten under-world of dangerous gibberish where toothless infants rip the nipples from their mother’s milkless breasts”. Then he topples to the floor with a heart attack. An ambulance is summoned, ending the party.

Mary invites Patrick home for a meal with his sons. Patrick waffles, returns to his lonely bedsit and, after he hears of Nicholas Pratt’s death in the ambulance, changes his mind and decides to rejoin his family.

As his son Thomas has observed, “In fact, you should change your mind, because that’s what it’s for”.

And with this lurch toward the freedom of decision-making, Patrick moves away from a lifetime of reacting to past trauma. It’s a fitting end to a monumental work of fiction.

— James Eckardt


Want more from the Thaiger family?

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS for instant updates on your mobile
📧 Subscribe to our daily email newsletter
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🔔 Subscribe to or Join our YouTube channel for daily video updates

Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Thaiger Talk Forums.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Coronavirus (Covid-19)9 mins ago

CCSA: We’re out of vaccines

Coronavirus (Covid-19)35 mins ago

Ayutthaya hospital to test all staff for Covid after 18 test positive

Thailand1 hour ago

13 teenagers arrested in Chon Buri for partying, gathering

Phuket Sandbox July 1st


Thaiger is getting behind local businesses for the restart of tourism in July - up to 50% discounts across all advertising packages in June!

Sponsored by image

Crime1 hour ago

Crime Suppression Division seizes dozens of illegal firearms in a series of raids

Crime2 hours ago

Marijuana valued at 10 million baht seized in Nakhon Phanom, 2 arrested

Coronavirus (Covid-19)2 hours ago

Monday Covid Update: 3,355 new cases, provincial totals

Coronavirus (Covid-19)3 hours ago

Almost 100% of teachers and staff vaccinated in Bangkok

Thailand3 hours ago

Almost 8 million register for stimulus scheme, app briefly goes down

Best of4 hours ago

Top 5 best temples in Bangkok

Thailand4 hours ago

Good Morning Thailand | What’s happening in Pattaya, Phuket sandbox, reopening for tourism

Coronavirus (Covid-19)4 hours ago

25 vaccination sites put on hold in Bangkok

Phuket5 hours ago

Ambulance crashes into a lightpole in Phuket

Thailand5 hours ago

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport task force cracks down on drug trafficking

ASEAN5 hours ago

Southeast Asia sees highest tally of Covid-19 infections in a single day

Chiang Rai6 hours ago

Chiang Rai: man robs a bank that’s inside a Tesco Lotus

Thailand3 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism3 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket3 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism4 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand4 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism4 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Southern floods, Face mask fines, Thai Air Asia woes | January 8