On a prose level, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed the first two, which were extremely clever and a bit raw. Here, with Patrick sober (for several years, it’s implied), he once again is one among many points of view, just as he was in the first book as a five year old, when his parents’ dinner guests held most of the narrative focus. Here the party is for some duke or other on his birthday, and the Princess Margaret is coming.
But he is still the center of the narrative, which sort of pivots around him at a fulcrum point in his life (and the series). Still in recovery from, well, everything, he’s made the decision to finally tell someone about what his father did to him as a child, something he swore he’d never, ever do. Patrick does not want to be at this party or around these people, but he’s there, and he struggles to make a real connection, and somehow miraculously mostly manages it when he does have that conversation with his best friend, Johnny (also a recovering drug addict). The moment when Patrick tells Johnny that his father raped him from the ages of five through eight is brilliantly written. Patrick struggles to put it into words, and he and Johnny talk in and around it, reaching towards each other and backing away again.
Meanwhile the most awful shits of the British upper class are doing nothing but talking about nonsense and betraying their corrupt and insubstantial values. Princess Margaret, whom St. Aubyn portrays as deeply classist and rather cruel, is the key example, but they all strive to be her. Nicholas Pratt, Patrick’s father’s “closest friend” is still farting around, telling everyone what he thinks they want to hear at all times, and being as disingenuous as possible. There’s an obsession in this book with characters saying and feeling different things, and a seemingly universal reaching for the shallow and insubstantial, even as they openly mock real emotion and effort.
(Many characters, including Johnny, mock the people in AA meetings. Johnny struggles with the contradictory facts that the meetings make him feel uncomfortable and cynical, with all those people so emotionally open and seemingly naïve, and yet those meetings also help him. He finds comfort in them.)
The book ends with an image that seems to indicate that Patrick is going to be leaving the life he was born into, with all of these people, to try and find something genuine to live for, to reject irony and snobbery, and try to actually enjoy his life. I read this book very fast, so all of this is mostly a surface reading, but I can tell if I were to spend more time with it, all kinds of layered shit would start popping out. Anytime a British author goes after the upper class, you’re going to get something meaty.