Family dynamics revealed at a funeral in Edward St Aubyn’s At Last
The last of the Patrick Melrose Trilogy, this book is thoroughly enjoyable even if you have not had the fortune to read the preceding volumes. The funeral of Eleanor Melrose sets the frame for this witty, humorous, and painful story about family dynamics and keeping up appearances. The true nature of all those people who had been close to the deceased, as well as their complicated relationships, become exposed at the funeral where friends and relatives gather to pay their final respects. The sad and tedious event brings the worst out of everyone. Mourning the death of Mrs. Melrose is the last thing on everybody’s mind. Eleanor’s son, Patrick, feels agitated, relieved and oppressed all at the same time as the suffocating childhood memories fill his mind. His mother’s death triggers an emotional crisis that forces him to face the past – his father’s cruelty and his mother’s inability to protect him. As he tragically realizes after the funeral, “the present was the top layer of the past.”
The painful realizations of Patrick and the other family members and intimate friends become the focal point at the final party organized in memory of the great heiress who had dedicated her life and precious time to charitable work. The good intentions and generous gestures towards others had, unfortunately, excluded her own child. As the story reveals, being a parent does not automatically mean being an adult. This revelation comes to Patrick only after her mother’s death, when he has to face the sadness of losing a parent while understanding that his parents had never been mature nor fit to take care of a child. Unpredictably, his mother’s death does not lead to Patrick’s emotional liberation like he had expected. Instead, at the end of the emotionally consuming day, as the tears run down his face, an empty feeling fills his existence, followed by a more uplifting promise of the future – a sense of peacefulness. Maybe everything will be all right, after all.
A brilliantly written, touchingly poignant dark comedy about family relations. A powerful work that can be highly recommended.
Publication information: Picador, May 2011