Imagine Downtown Abbey written by William Burroughs, or witnessing a deranged Hunter S Thompson binge through the lens of Evelyn Waugh, and you’ll have some idea of the acclaimed Patrick Melrose novels.
The first of the quintet, Never Mind, was published in 1992; the second, Bad News, came out later that year and something of a cult was born. The final book in the so-called Melrosiad, At Last, was published in 2011, by which stage the world had caught up and the series had an enormous following and a growing pile of awards.
The books follow the life of Patrick Melrose, a louche, lugubrious upper-class man, from his appalling childhood through his twenties as a drug addict to a splenetic, alcoholic adulthood and final sobriety and calm. Brittle and brilliant, they mix deep tragedy and damage with sardonic comedy, lampooning the grotesqueries of the upper classes.
What makes them even more interesting is that they are heavily autobiographical.
Like Melrose, author Edward St Aubyn was born into an aristocratic family that dates back to William the Conqueror; like Melrose St Aubyn was raped by his father at the age of five and ignored by his alcoholic mother. He too became a heroin addict, and it was only in his mid-20s that he told anyone about his molestation, which had gone on for three years. As part of his therapy and recovery from drug addiction, he began to write.