Edward St Aubyn is greatest identified for his immersive, darkly comedian sequence of 5 autobiographical novels concerning the childhood, youth and center age of Patrick Melrose, a minor English aristocrat who finds himself hooked on heroin after being repeatedly raped in childhood by his father. His writer calls his new e book his “first main work” since At Last, the fifth Melrose novel, which he’s absolutely too shrewd to not see as a diss on the 2 novels he printed in the intervening 10 years: Lost for Words, a crass farce a couple of clueless e book prize jury, impressed by At Last’s snubbing for the Booker; and Dunbar, a commissioned reimagining of King Lear that was overshadowed not solely by the supply materials however by the Melrose novels that had presumably made St Aubyn seem to be a sound guess to write down it in the primary place.
Pitched someplace between a Shakespeare comedy and a Michael Frayn farce, Double Blind is a rompy send-up of scientific chutzpah and the excesses of enterprise capitalism. It centres on two thirtysomething Oxford graduates, Lucy and Olivia, who’re reunited when Lucy returns from the US to work (and fall in love) with Hunter, a fast-living digital actuality tycoon funding pioneering mind analysis. Olivia, who has just lately coupled up with Francis, a botanist rewilding a distant Sussex property, is an instructional constructing a profession out of debunking neuroscience, in one of many novel’s sometimes calculated asymmetries.
St Aubyn inhabits the angle of those characters and plenty of extra, packing the e book’s jet-set itinerary with momentously on a regular basis incident (most cancers, being pregnant) and extravagantly comedian set items: at one level, a Vatican priest, despatched to play hardball with Hunter over a very outlandish enterprise deal, as a substitute loses his resolve at a Kraftwerk gig on the entrepreneur’s south of France retreat.
The Melrose novels favored to hop round, too, and in some ways St Aubyn is in his consolation zone right here, describing Hunter’s crack-and-Xanax life-style with connoisseurial aplomb; there’s additionally a vicious father whose backstory villainy influences the narrative current. Yet St Aubyn’s novels appear to run aground every time their controlling presence isn’t a single character à la Patrick, however an concept – right here, the necessity for humility earlier than unknown unknowns from ecosystems to human unpredictability. If it may be very humorous (one bravura passage derides Occam’s razor as a “minimalist aesthetic… speculated to adjudicate over mental life for the remainder of time”), St Aubyn’s suavely reportorial type additionally shrinkwraps the feelings of his characters, as if he’s a fancy airport novelist. We’ve solely been in Lucy’s firm for 2 paragraphs after we’re instructed that “her have to magnetise a sure stage of safety was rooted in the drastic uncertainties of her childhood”.
The more and more hectic plot in the end offers you the sense of St Aubyn spinning plates whereas attempting to again his means into an exit. There’s a flip to intercourse comedy when, with Olivia pregnant, Francis finds himself tempted by a new-age adept, the form of determine St Aubyn has despatched up earlier than. At the identical time, the jumpy inner monologue of a personality with schizophrenia grooms us for disruptive climactic violence in the way of Ian McEwan’s Saturday, an expectation maybe subliminally enhanced by the looks of a mind surgeon referred to as McEwan.
Yet the ending had me anxiously double-checking my proof towards the completed copy; expectations are solely one other factor St Aubyn is enjoying with right here. Double Blind is likable sufficient nevertheless it was eclipsed after I subsequently made the error of choosing up my battered single-volume paperback of the Melrose novels, studying late into the night time and stealing time in grasping snatches over subsequent days. In 2014 St Aubyn instructed the New Yorker that writing Lost for Words was a approach to loosen up from the obsessive craft he dropped at the clearly harrowing materials of those earlier books. At Last was billed as the ultimate instalment in the Melrose sequence, however in the identical interview St Aubyn seemed that he hasn’t shut the door on a return. For this reader, a minimum of, if maybe not for St Aubyn himself, it could’t come quickly sufficient.