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Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mother's Milk is the fourth of Edward St Aubyn's semi-autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels, adapted for TV for Sky Atlantic and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as aristocratic addict, Patrick.
The once illustrious, once wealthy Melroses are in peril. Caught up in the wreckage of broken promises, child-rearing, adultery and assisted suicide, Patrick finds his wife Mary consumed by motherhood, his mother in thrall to a New Age foundation, and his young son Robert understanding far more than he should. But even as the family struggles against the pull of its ever-present past, a new generation brings a new tenderness, and the possibility of change.
This elegant and witty satire on the dissatisfactions of family life, which continues the story of Patrick Melrose, the hero of St. Aubyn's U.S. debut (Some Hope), opens in August 2000 at Patrick's mother's home in the south of France, with Patrick's five-year-old son, Robert, remembering with preternatural clarity the circumstances of his birth. No one on this vacation is particularly happy; Robert realizes he's being displaced by the arrival of baby brother Thomas, and Patrick is furious because his mother plans to leave her house (and what remains of her fortune) to Seamus Dourke, a ridiculous New Age guru. Over the next three Augusts, the Melrose story unfolds from different points of view: Patrick is deep in the throes of a midlife crisis; Mary, his wife, feels her self has been obliterated by the incessant demands of motherhood; and the two precociously verbal children struggle to make sense of the complexities of life. The narrative itself is thin, but the pleasures of the book reside in the author's droll observations (overweight Americans, for example, have "become their own air-bag systems in a dangerous world"). It's yet another novel about familial dysfunction but told in a fresh, acerbic way.