Sarcasm can sometimes act as snobbery
The pink dream of middle-class family happiness
As usual, Patrick was too tired to read and too restless to sleep. As usual, Mary had gone to bed with the younger son Thomas. Patrick tried to remember what his youth had been like but could only remember loads of sex and the feeling of potential greatness. And that, as his mind approached the present, had been replaced by the disappearance of sex and a sense of wasted potential. Fear and desire, fear and desire. Maybe he should take another twenty milligrams of tamazepam. Forty milligrams sometimes gave him a few hours of sleep if he had had a lot of red wine with dinner.
Patrick Melrose can't sleep again. This is not particularly surprising. Because even in the three previous Patrick Melrose novels, this alter-ego hero by the British writer Edward St. Aubyn was regularly so desperate that he could hardly calm down. In the first novel in the trilogy "Never Mind", five-year-old Patrick was sexually raped by his father David. In his second novel, "Bad News", as a 22-year-old Oxford student, he chased every shot of heroin. And in the third novel "Some Hope", as a 30-year-old snob in the midst of an arrogant high society, Patrick did not even shrink from turning his own experience of abuse into a cynical party gag. No: it has never been particularly warm, friendly or brightening up in the stinking rich and self-destructive Patrick Melrose cosmos, with which the offspring of the nobility Edward St. Aubyn successfully wrote his own life trauma from his soul.
But in comparison to the psychic rides in hell of the last three Melrose novels, his battered hero Patrick now appears, in the new novel "Mother Milk" - in German: Muttermilch - at least ostensibly stabilized and civically secure as never before. 42-year-old Patrick became a lawyer. Has found a reliable spouse in his wife Mary. And is the father of two young sons. Actually the best prerequisites for the lived family idyll. But of course, even the happiness of a father holds nightmare potential for someone like Patrick, as Edward St Aubyn explains:
"I believe that having a baby makes everyone around them become babies again. Because whatever unresolved feelings someone has about addiction or care, it all breaks in the presence of someone as highly dependent as you Toddler again very strong. "
As soon as you have a child, the unresolved conflicts of your childhood come back to life. Unfortunately, in "Mother's Milk" this applies not only to Patrick, but also to his overly maternal wife Mary, who admittedly refuses to continue having sex with her husband after the birth of her second son:
"Mary is someone who felt shockingly rejected and misunderstood by her own mother. That is why she becomes an overmother who overcompensates by giving her child a completely over-mothering."
The title-giving breast milk actually describes the healthiest food that parents can give their offspring. In St. Aubyn's novel, however, the care with which Mary and Patrick look after their sons is heavily burdened biographically. And both are so obsessed with the compensatory desire to necessarily want to do better than their own parents that they constantly overwhelm each other and everyone else:
"Patrick senses that people who have been badly treated by their parents are either in Zone One, where they are doing exactly what was once done to the people they really love. Or they are in." Zone Two where they overcompensate and are over-anxious about not doing what was done to them. But by doing that, they also make mistakes. And they create a climate of exhaustion their children grow up in. Patrick and Mary are definitely zone- Two parents. So you're only halfway there. "
Patrick successfully defeated his heroin addiction in "Mother's Milk". But he is driven by a different addiction. The addiction to the perfectly happy family, which of course cannot be reached. Frustrated, Patrick throws himself first into an unhappy love affair and then into alcohol and pill addiction. And his failure as a super dad is exacerbated in the novel by the fact that Patrick's dementia-sick mother, Eleanor, demands that her disinherited son, of all people, provide euthanasia for her. A request that finally drives Patrick into a hopeless soul dilemma because on the one hand he hates his egomaniacal mother - and on the other hand feels obliged to her:
"At the beginning of 'Mother's milk', Patrick's mother is in the process of completely disinheriting her son. And then she asks him to kill her. And of course those are two things that draw attention to the mother. And then withdraws her request again. And that finally frees Patrick because it is so extreme that he can let go of her. "
Child abuse, drug addiction, party snobbery: the first three Melrose novels showed a brutal luxury world of decadent super-rich, to which one is normally not allowed. And Edward St. Aubyn became so famous with these autobiographical novels, not least because they satisfied the scandalism of the British gossip press. Now in "Mother's Milk" the emotional needs of Patrick are also based on the experiences of its creator. But they no longer seem so extraordinary, scandalous and different from the milieu. Instead, the novel tells from the point of view of a son, mother Mary and father Patrick from the perspective of a completely normal family madness of mutual dependency and attempts at blackmail - albeit in an exaggerated form:
"I'm completely uninterested in fantasy. For me there is always a real reason to write. And I write about something that can't get out of my head. And for me, imagination means how deeply I penetrate reality - and not, how much I escape from it. It's a cheap idea of the imagination to think that it should take the form of things that don't exist, or times we don't know about, even if I read a novel on Mars play in the 21st century and fill it with melancholy dragons and wise elves, I would still give them the feelings and thoughts that I know. "
The Melroses in "Mother's milk" show how quickly the pink dream of middle-class family happiness, which is so often conjured up every evening on the television screen, can turn into a dark nightmare when abused children become parents. For Patrick and Mary the family was never a refuge, but always the most brutal enemy of all. Their struggle is therefore primarily a struggle with their own old demons, which the demon expert St. Aubyn once again knows how to describe both accurately and sarcastically in his novel proposed for the Booker Prize in 2006. Even the worst despair is good for the bitter, sharp-tongued bon mot. And then you forgive the author for some lengthy passages of dialogue, if there are sentences like this one with which Patrick once sums up his alcohol addiction:
There was practically nothing more complicated than being a successful alcoholic. Bombing third world countries was something for people with more free time.
Edward St. Aubyn: "Breast Milk".
Original title: Mother's Milk. Translated by Dirk van Gunsteren
DuMont Buchverlag GmbH, August 2009 - bound - 320 pages
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