Monday, May 26, 2014


Ian Parker profiles Edward St. Aubyn for the New Yorker (gruesome, gripping):
James met me in London. Within a few minutes, he said, “I have an odd relationship with Teddy, because he has never, ever been, in any way, cruel to me.” He described going with St. Aubyn and Shulman to a weekend party held by “the Earl of somebody or other,” at which the flirtation between St. Aubyn and a fellow-guest was painfully obvious. James also recalled how St. Aubyn sometimes reacted, at dinner parties, to a stranger’s careless remark: “A not terribly bright girl might say, ‘Ooh, that’s fun,’ and he would play with her use of language in a way that humiliated her.” He added, “It was like a wolf savaging a sheep. It was absolutely terrifying, and difficult to interfere with.” I later spoke with a woman who had had exactly this experience, in France: “I said something about a book I didn’t really know. He made me feel very young, and very stupid.”

James placed this behavior in a generational setting. “That’s what Teddy’s father used to do,” he said. In the fifties, James’s parents, both psychoanalysts, had a second home in Cornwall. David Astor, the owner of the Observer and a family friend, encouraged them to visit Arthur Koestler, who was staying nearby “with this person called Roger St. Aubyn.” (“Such was the ‘Dance to the Music of Time’ nature of things,” James said.) Roger, in his early fifties, a qualified but inactive doctor, had by this point divorced his first wife—Baroness Sophie von Puthon, an Austrian—and married St. Aubyn’s mother. Alexandra, Edward’s older sister, had just been born. “My mother described it as an incredible situation in which you had this sadistic, horrible man being vicious to his young heiress wife,” James said. “She was looking after this baby, in this doomy, bleak Cornish place, with Arthur Koestler being intellectual and not particularly nice.”
A reread of the Melrose books is on my list of near-future things to do: I was going to write an essay about St. Aubyn (and may still do so), only laziness and a preference for advancing my own large-scale projects will probably get the better of me. I also have an idea for a class I want to teach on a certain strain of contemporary fiction (projected syllabus to follow - one thing I really like about this time of year is the fact that I am bursting with thoughts and ideas that I haven't had time to pursue during the school year, and now have three months of liberty to do exactly as I like).

I read Lost for Words the other day. Minor work, but with sentences of exceptional sharpness and clarity (I try and avoid using the preposterous "lapidary"): "Her openness to infidelity filled him with an optimism that her choice of infidelity discouraged" (!).

1 comment:

  1. You've reminded me why I should read Lost for Words despite awareness that it's no Patrick Melrose: those sentences. Even a lesser work surely offers enough of them to be worth the read.