Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Edward St Aubyn: On the Edge

Much as I admire the Some Hope trilogy and its sequel Mother's Milk, this novel, written between the two, is an odd - and to my mind unsuccessful - book. It's concerned with the adventures of a group of people who would probably term themselves spiritual seekers as they drift from one feelgood farm to another, from Findhorn to Esalen, from tantric sex to psychedelic release. The book is full of detail; praised by one reviewer for the depth and breadth of its research, it seems to me though to be over-researched. Page after page is devoted to the kind of irony-free information about basically cranky new age theory that wouldn't be out of place in a self-help bestseller, but sits oddly in a book that also appears to have a satirical purpose. In fact, one of the problems I have with the book is to understand exactly where it stands. At times, it reads more like Waugh's The Loved One, than anything else, and many scenes draw on the same kind of viperish superiority that's implicit in that novel. St Aubyn's justifiably lauded style is undoubtedly at its best when it's taking the piss out of the over-rich airheads and yearning geriatrics who fall prey to the sort of nonsense offered by these alternative modern-day spas. Debarbed, it works less well and there's a soft, slightly sticky core of sentimentality that St Aubyn would never have contemplated in the trilogy or Mother's Milk. My reading may be influenced by my own attitude towards what I see as the irretrievably phony world of the privileged soul-searchers described. St Aubyn, though, seems to want to have his soulcake and to eat it too.


John Self said...

Agree completely! His other non-Melrose book, A Clue to the Exit, is actually rather worse, and made me warm to On the Edge a little more. Still a significant talent, but went off the rails a little with these two, I think.

Charles Lambert said...

Well, I'm just about to read A Clue to the Exit (I bought them both in a flush of enthusiasm after Some Hope and Mother's Milk)... I'll let you know what I think!