Some Hope by Edward St Aubyn (1994) 136 p.

When we last met Patrick Melrose, in Bad News, he was 22 years old and in the grip of a heroin addiction, on his way back to England after an intense couple of days in New York City. Some Hope reintroduces us to him in his early 30s, when he’s kicked the drugs and is training to become a lawyer, but must still navigate the monstrous world of the British upper crust. Most of the novel (or novella, really) takes place over the course of a house party one evening in Gloucestershire.

St Aubyn maintains his acidic contempt for the wealthy and the privileged; there’s an amusingly unflattering portrayal of Princess Margaret (the Queen’s sister), who believes that England “belonged, if not legally, then in some much more profound sense, to her own family.” I also quite liked one character’s observation that diplomats had long since been rendered obsolete by the telephone.

I can’t truly chalk it up as a flaw, but I found this instalment difficult going in terms of keeping track of the characters beyond Patrick himself. I recall Anne and Bridget and Nicholas, if only vaguely, but there was a whole host of further snobs who may have been present in the dinner party in Never Mind or may not have been. Of course this is partly my fault for reading the books with so much space in between them, but then I doubt it was any easier for readers picking them up as they came out. This is the first time I’ve read a Patrick Melrose novel in one of the collected editions, which turn them from five slim novellas into a single novel of considerable (but not outrageous) heft. I suspect they might be the kind of books better read as one volume than as disparate experiences, even if lurching in and out of Patrick’s life gives the whole affair an inevitably disjointed tone.

The other thing I found less compelling about this book was the rather pivotal fact of Patrick’s sobriety. I suppose this goes arm in arm with the fact that a youth of 22 is more interesting to read about than a man of 32 – as Patrick puts it at one stage, he got a nasty shock when he realised he was too old to die young. Of course, complaining about the recovery phase in a semi-autobiographical novel by a recovered heroin addict feels churlish. Probably it says more about me than it does about Patrick Melrose, or Edward St Aubyn.