Books: New and old reads

A long holiday weekend gave me time to lounge outside in the sun — take that eternal winter! — with Edward St. Aubyn’s latest, Lost for Words.

summerskylineIt’s delicious: a satire of a famous book contest. Witty, withering, sexy. Yes, he gives us too many characters, none of whom we get to know deeply. Still, a fun read.

I’m starting this post with St. Aubyn because I read his Patrick Melrose novels over spring break in Florida and have had trouble finding a way to write about that all-consuming experience. (Thank you, Georgia Dent, for leading me to them.) Each is a great read, and I highly recommend, even though their subjects include humiliation, child rape, extreme drug and alcohol use, marital abandonment, infidelity, disinheritance, and the slow awful decline of a stroke-impaired parent.

Five linked novellas follow Patrick patrickmelroseand the adults in his life, from his childhood to fatherhood within the upper-est crust of English society. (Princess Margaret figures in one, memorably.) Like Evelyn Waugh, St. Aubyn’s work is expertly constructed, deeply moving and very very funny. First published in 1992, the fifth “At Last,” came out in 2012. Find more about St. Aubyn in Ian Parker’s excellent New Yorker profile.

Other reads I’ve liked lately include Hilary Mantel’s An Experiment in Love, published in 2007.

It follows provincial girls from childhood to a London college for women. It’s set in the 1960’s, a time when women of all ages were trying out their independence. mantelOne girl is studying to be a doctor, another becomes pregnant to see if she can get pregnant, another becomes anorexic after her parents cut her off, emotionally and financially, for spending the holidays (read: sex) with her boyfriend’s family.

Set this one on the Mean Girl shelf. How mean? This ends with a locked door and a fiery death.

Finally, a shout out to Melville House Publishing, for resurrecting Irmgard Keun’s Gilgi (1931), which was so popular and shocking for its time the Gestapo blocked the author’s royalties. Melville’s Neversink Library “champions books from around the world that have been overlooked, underappreciated, looked askance at, or foolishly ignored.”

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