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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Sluttery Book Club: Never Mind, Edward St Aubyn

It's our third book club, and this time we opted for Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn, the first in a trilogy of novels about Patrick Melrose. We're doing a live Twitter chat about this book tonight from 7pm. Just follow @DomesticSluts and the Twitter hashtag #DSBookClub to get involved.

So what's the book about? Here's the blurb: At his mother’s family house in the south of France, Patrick Melrose has the run of a magical garden. Bravely imaginative and self-sufficient, five-year-old Patrick encounters the volatile lives of adults with care. His father, David, rules with considered cruelty, and Eleanor, his mother, has retreated into drink. They are expecting guests for dinner. But this afternoon is unlike the chain of summer days before, and the shocking events that precede the guests’ arrival tear Patrick’s world in two.

Siany: It's hard to sing the praises of a book where nothing really happens and the one that thing does happen is actually pretty horrific. Yet I found myself really enjoying Never Mind. There was something a little Handful of Dust about it, maybe even a little bit of Beautiful and the Damned. I didn't really like any of the characters (except for Anne, who at least had a modicum of sense about how ludicrous their privileged lives were), but I don't think I was meant to. The reason I love this book is because it's so beautifully written. It's sharp, it's quick, it's a tiny little glimpse into a terrible world and that totally fascinated me. I found myself wanting to talk about the characters, I've found myself wanting to discuss their motives and the themes in the book - the fight for power in the book fascinated me. Never Mind isn't an easy book to read, but it's compelling. It isn't a curl up in bed with a cup of tea kind of book, but I really want to read the rest of the trilogy.

Frances: I'd read a later book in this series, Mother's Milk. At the time, I don't think I'd even realised that it wasn't a stand alone book because it worked so perfectly by itself. Never Mind is much the same, cleverly using only a short period of time and a couple of key incidents to form the story. Now I'm determined to go back and re-read Mother's Milk to see how the author draws the two books together and how he develops the character of Patrick from this disturbing start. As Siany says, Never Mind has got virtually no sympathetic characters and features lot of things that are really quite revolting. I also felt quite stupid reading it: there's a lot of chat about ideas and theories and philosophy that went right over my head. But it is compellingly written and I've been quietly mulling it over since finishing it. I definitely want to read more - however, I might have to give it a while before I do.

Sel: I still can't decide if I like Never Mind or not. It is hauntingly bleak but strangely beautiful at the same time. The characters are, on the surface, completely unlikeable but I found myself wanting to find out more about them and how they came to be as they are. I think it's a sign of a good book though when you're still thinking about it days after you've read it and I'm certainly going to read the

Kat: Sorry to be a fire extinguisher on the joys of reading, but I absolutely loathed this book. St Aubyn (great name by the way) writes beautifully; he has a lovely turn of phrase and his descriptions were great. But reading this book just proved to me how hollow all that is if you can't give a stuff about the characters. Any of them. Not even one. Just a little flash of humanity - or even decent characterisation - would have lifted Never Mind and made it a more layered and engaging experience. Hateful characters are usually just as enjoyable to read as decent ones, but everyone here is so vague and outlined that there's nothing to draw you in. As it was, I finished it on the sunniest morning of the year, felt utterly destroyed, and spent the rest of the day staring at cat videos to try and drag my mood and my soul out of the gutter. The rest of this series is apparently tremendous, but with an opener like this, I highly doubt I'll go back to find out.

The Sluttery Verdict: It's not an easy book, it might not even be what we'd call a fun book. But despite the hateful characters, there's something about the book that's compelling and made a lot of us want to know more. One Sluttery thumb up for this one. Except from Kat. Her thumbs are firmly down and a nice turn of phrase isn't going to change that.

What did you think? Did you love or hate it? Want to read the rest of the trilogy or never want to think about the trilogy again? Our live Tie book tonight from 7pm, but let's get the discussion started now! Want to join in next time? We're getting into Girl Reading by Kate Ward and chatting about that on September 18th.

WARNING: We've kept all spoilers out of this post, but we can't promise that you won't read spoilers in the comments. Don't say you weren't warned.


  1. Ooh I read this recently! Siany's review summed up what I thought perfectly, really. Definitely not an easy read, but I absolutely loved it and I really want to read the other books in the trilogy.

    1. I don't know if 'loved' is the right word though. Reading a horrible book is a strange kind of entertainment.

    2.'s strangely horrible but strangely brilliant at the same time. I didn't get to the end and think 'Wow! I loved that book!', more 'Whoa, that was GOOD'.

  2. I love Edward St Aubyn's writing style, especially the incredibly hyper articulate dialogue. I find him intoxicating. I first read Mother's Milk where Patrick is an adult, dealing with his two precocious sons and his unravelling mother. I think it actually makes more sense to start with that one and then go back to the original trilogy, to find out why Patrick turned out the way he does.

  3. I am very disappointed not to be able to make the twitter discussion later as I am loving this book club. On the book itself I am afraid I didn't like it. I can see why people rate him as an author but I found it rather dull and didn't like any of the characters so didn't care what happened to them or particularly want to know. I just didn't enjoy it and although I don't read just light and happy books I do want to get to the end and be glad I read it but with this one I just wasn't.

    1. If it had been much longer, I do wonder if I'd have keep going. I'm not sure I'd want to read a book with such hateful characters if it was twice the length.

      I still haven't got my head around when something horrific is part of being entertained. It's hard to say I enjoyed a book with incest and rape halfway through it.

  4. Totally agree with Kat, I hated this book! Vague characters & the only part where anything happens is pretty vile.


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