Lost for Words
Edward St. Aubyn
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26, 250 pp.
Writing poorly on purpose is best left to those who can write especially well. “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole” penned the accidentally famous William Boot in Scoop, only it was really Evelyn Waugh who strung together that and the other intentionally terrible (and hilarious) passages of prose in that novel.
Edward St. Aubyn writes badly in Lost for Words, which is another way of saying just how good, and funny, he is. A stylist often mentioned in the same breath as Waugh (and Kingsley and Martin Amis and Anthony Powell), St. Aubyn is best known for the five-part Patrick Melrose sequence of novels. Those individually slim volumes add up to a near-epic tracking of the title character frommiserable childhood to drug-addicted young-adulthood to recovering-but-never-fully-repaired middle age. Incestuous pedophilic rape; casual misogyny and ritual humiliation; rampant drug and alcohol abuse; narcissism, cynicism, duplicity, infidelity—these are the pleasures to which St. Aubyn treats readers over the course of the complete narrative, populated mainly by members of Britain’s upper class. His achievement is making all of that not only endurable, but also—...