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Mother's Milk: A Novel Paperback – November 9, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This elegant and witty satire on the dissatisfactions of family life, which continues the story of Patrick Melrose, the hero of St. Aubyn's U.S. debut (Some Hope), opens in August 2000 at Patrick's mother's home in the south of France, with Patrick's five-year-old son, Robert, remembering with preternatural clarity the circumstances of his birth. No one on this vacation is particularly happy; Robert realizes he's being displaced by the arrival of baby brother Thomas, and Patrick is furious because his mother plans to leave her house (and what remains of her fortune) to Seamus Dourke, a ridiculous New Age guru. Over the next three Augusts, the Melrose story unfolds from different points of view: Patrick is deep in the throes of a midlife crisis; Mary, his wife, feels her self has been obliterated by the incessant demands of motherhood; and the two precociously verbal children struggle to make sense of the complexities of life. The narrative itself is thin, but the pleasures of the book reside in the author's droll observations (overweight Americans, for example, have "become their own air-bag systems in a dangerous world"). It's yet another novel about familial dysfunction but told in a fresh, acerbic way.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

This slim novel centers on Patrick Melrose, a London barrister whose toxic childhood and protracted adolescence were chronicled in St. Aubyn's "Some Hope" trilogy. Patrick now has a wife and two young sons, but he remains subject to the whims of his senile mother. She has donated the house where he grew up, in Provence, for use as a New Age retreat, leaving Patrick and his dependents to spend holidays there as increasingly unwelcome guests. Narrated by turns from the perspectives of Patrick, his wife, and their elder son, the novel vividly captures how the family members' roles shift with the birth of the second son and the deterioration of Patrick's mother. The book's structure, however, is overschematic, and St. Aubyn's satiric barbs, although as deadly as ever, are wasted on easy targets—like uncouth Americans and New Age hypocrites.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press, Open City Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (November 9, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1890447420
  • ISBN-13: 978-1890447427
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,784,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

The book starts particularly strong but devolves to be somewhat unbelievable and tedious by the end.
G. Dawson
As many times as I was tempted to put down this book forever, I didn't - mainly because I have a compulsion that does not allow me to stop reading a book early.
Erica
Superb and darkly hilarious as well as touching, the writing here is dead on and brilliant, simply brilliant.
Russell Colwell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edward St. Aubyn's thin novel (235 pages) makes up in acidity for what it lacks in length. It's all about Patrick Melrose, an attorney in his early forties; his wife Mary; and their two precocious sons Robert and Thomas. The clever title has to do literally with Mary's actually breast-feeding both her sons but it also refers to Patrick's often strained relationship with his unraveling aged mother who gives away the family home in the South of France to a New Age guru Seamus Dourke. The author throws in some adultery, thoughts of assisted suicide, the plight of the institutionalized old people and dysfunctional families in general. The action takes place in four Augusts from 2000 to 2003.

What is so exciting about this little novel is its very dry wit, seen most often in the character of Patrick. He calls his wife Mary and himself trainee parents. He opines that newborn babies "can't sweat, can't walk, can't talk, can't read, can't drive, can't sign a check." They are unlike horses who can stand a few hours after they are born. "'If horses went in for banking, they'd have a credit line by the end of the week.'" And sometimes a woman is just a woman "before you light her up."

The author reserves his most biting satire, however, for these United States. Having lost the ancestral home in the South of France, the Melrose family travels to America. While their plane is still on the ground at Heathrow, they spot a woman "sagging at the knees under her own weight." Like many Americans, they are so fat that they have "decided to become their own air-bag systems in a dangerous world." Patrick says he will call himself an "'international tourist on the grounds that that was how President Bush pronounced 'international terrorist.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Erica on July 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
It is odd perhaps that I would describe this short novel as a "slog," but there it is. While reading it, I spent a lot of time complaining to family and friends about the hateful, annoying novel I was reading. It started out particularly bad. The first section is written from the perspective of the family's five year old. I have to say, I really don't think this guy can write kids, or maybe he was trying to imagine what it would be like to describe the thoughts of a child in very adult language - I dunno. All I can say is it was excessively annoying.

Things get a little better when the perspectives of the adults take over, particularly the pathetic and eternally unsatisfied father and husband, Patrick. Now, I will be honest. What really got to me about this novel is its unrelenting cynicism. I know that other reviewers describe this as 'acerbic wit,' but for me it was just too much. Each and every character is loathesome. Each and every aspect of their lives is a bore and a chore. Now I am a single woman, so I guess I might have to admit that reading about the discontents of married people brings some amount of satisfaction. And in fact, Patrick could be quite amusing in his rants and raves (there were probably not enough of these). Also, I should add that NO ONE dislikes excessive earnestness more than me, but this novel, as I said, was unrelenting. And do I really need to hear multiple descriptions of how disgusting fat people are? I mean, that just comes off as snobbish and unkind, not really witty. And who can't find something good to eat in New York??

As many times as I was tempted to put down this book forever, I didn't - mainly because I have a compulsion that does not allow me to stop reading a book early.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Reader from Singapore on June 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
The British love writing about dysfunctional families - there are dozens of good literary novels published each year about them - and if not for the fact that Edward St. Aubyn's book was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, it wouldn't have stood out as an obvious pick The secret torments of the Melroses aren't particularly exceptional or interesting. Fact is, they're all a little messed up in the head because they had dads or mums who didn't do the right thing by them when they were little. By implication, their own kids will some day grow up similarly afflicted. The problem with reading books like these is that with somebody - a parent or better still, society at large- to blame, we are encouraged not to take responsibility for our own actions. And so it goes on.

Be that as it may, "Mother's Milk" is indeed a very well written book. We dwell in the heads of each character merry-go-round style and let their interior monologue reveal their inner most feelings and frustrations to us. Of the lot, I found Mary's voice the most sympathetic and truest. A woman fighting a losing battle against the demands of motherhood is universal and a phenomenon most people can identify with. However, Patrick's spiraling resentment at losing his place in Mary's bed to his kids, his mother Eleanor's bizarre determination to disinherit him and leave her property to some New Age cause, his descent into self-pity and response by mooning about, getting drunk on the beach and making out with his friend Julia, etc only seems like childish petulance and grows increasingly tiresome. I also had problems with the voices of the two boys, Robert and Thomas - they're far too old for their ages and therefore lack credibility.
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