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Theo Tait writes:
Edward St Aubyn began writing his Patrick Melrose novels in 1988. He finished At Last, the fifth and supposedly final book in the series, late in 2010. St Aubyn is a terrific prose stylist and, end to end, these 800 or so pages, covering more than 40 years, add up to something incontestably grand, the nearest we have today to the great cycles of upper-class English life published in the decades after the war – Dance to the Music of Time or Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour. They combine a distinctive and exotic subject – appalling posh people – with a universal theme: families, and whether people can transcend their origins (answer: no). But where you might expect such a series to be panoramic and full of digressions, the Melrose novels are claustrophobic and obsessively centred on a few deeply felt concerns: cruelty, snobbery, neglect, addiction, inheritance. They feature a large cast of sharply drawn gargoyles but are entirely dominated by three characters: Patrick and his mother and father, Eleanor and David Melrose, two of the great monsters of recent fiction.