Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Patrick Melrose Novels —Deckle Edge/Uncut

I've been reading Edward St. Aubyn's four novels—Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Mild—nicely collected in Picador's 2012 edition.

The novels are an elaboration on Philip Larkin's famous "They fuck you up, your mum and dad . . . They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you."

Patrick Melrose is 5 years old in the first novel, 22 in the second, 30 in the third, and a married barrister in the fourth. A fifth novel has appeared, At Last, but it's not included in this volume.

If a reader needed an excuse to despise wealthy Englishmen and women, this novel is the excuse in spades. The satire is venemous, as vicious as anything I've ever read. I was glad to be an American and not an Englishman until Patrick brings his family to American and the satire is aimed at us—obese and stupid are only the pale beginnings of the justified attack.

These are psychological novels, introspective and merciless and insightful and despairing and even funny. A couple of quick examples:

Patrick wakes up in the third novel "desperate to escape the self-subversion of irony and say what he really meant, but really meaning what only irony could convey" (302).

Patrick and his wife Mary and their sons Robert and Thomas (a baby) are visiting Patrick's mother who has destroyed herself and her family and her fortune with alcohol and earnest but silly philantropy. She tries to speak but can't find words.

"They were all lost for words, except for Thomas who had none to lose" (502).

And, of course, for a tireless collector of references to standing as metaphor, this was a gem:

"All sex was prostitution for both participants, not always in the commercial sense, but in the deeper etymological sense that they stood in for something else" (543).

Finally, the book was a pleasure to hold. As you can see in the photo, the pages are uncut, reminding me of what I expect in a new hardback novel from Knopf, for instance. Toni Morrison's Home is the most recent example on my shelf.

I was uncertain about the word "uncut," since it can also mean those fine old books that must be read with a paper knife in hand (I've only had that pleasure once, with an East German book of variant texts for Brecht plays performed at the theater at Schiffbauerdamm in East Berlin).

I looked it up on the American Booksellers' site and "uncut" is indeed the right word, as is "deckle edge." Investigating just a little more, I found that paper was once made in a mold called a "deckle." When the paper dried out the deckle was removed, leaving an uneven deckle edge.

Finally, I went looking for uncut edges. I've got eighteenth-century books that have cut edges, nineteenth-century books with cut edges, and most of my twentieth-century books have cut edges. Clean and efficient.

But then this discovery: a set of Kipling's works with uncut edges on the bottom and side both! and cut, gilded edges on the top.

None of this, of course, would be possible with an E-book.



James Wood has the most marvelous review of Edward St. Aubyn's novels in the New Yorker this year, maybe it's online yes it seems it is


Scott Abbott said...

Michael, I just read the review. As you say, it's marvelous.