Sunday, August 27, 2006

Booker Review: Mother’s Milk, Edward St. Aubyn

Nothing makes writing more fun than the imposition of strict rules governing form and content, so before I started blogging this year’s Booker longlist I decided to formulate some guidelines. I was initially tempted to introduce Oulipo-esque restrictions (eg. reviews comprised entirely of four letter words that, when read sequentially, would solve Bezzel’s eight queens chess problem and give the value of pi to a thousand decimal places), but recalling my unsuccessful foray into abecedary fiction (sample: “A brougham came down every fortnight to…goddamn it!”) I decided against such contrivances. Instead I settled upon the simple methodological rule that I would review each novel within twenty-four hours of reading it and/or throwing it across the room in disgust. This, I felt, would create a sense of immediacy in keeping with the I’m a dog I’m a dog this is my number…Oops, sorry, listening to the new Thom Yorke album as I write. Anyway, the plan was to read ‘em and review ‘em, but there was a problem: I’d read Edward St. Aubyn’s Mother’s Milk well before the longlist announcement and so by the time I found out it was on the list I’d forgotten pretty much everything about it, and of course I hadn’t taken any notes, and I didn’t really want to read it again so soon, even though I greatly enjoyed it, so when I finally got around to reviewing it I thought why not just write a long, rambling introductory paragraph and hope that readers, if any, will give up and not read the remainder of the review, which will of necessity be “phoned in”, as it were, did I fall or was I pushed and where’s the blood and where’s the blood. Sorry – Thom again.

Anyway: Mother’s Milk. I ought to point out that the novel is not in any way related to the 1989 Red Hot Chili Peppers album of the same name. Just in case you were wondering. Incidentally, what’s going on with that band? They were like the coolest band in the world for about six months in 1991, then they dropped off the planet for a while only to resurface as the 21st century’s answer to The Eagles. On Mother’s Milk, though, they were still doing that funk/rock thing that they did so well, although by that point their sound was more rock than funk. There’s a few dud tracks, but the cover of “Higher Ground” still sounds great and “Magic Johnson” remains the best song ever written about a commercially available marital aid.

Turning once again to the matter at hand, Mother’s Milk (the novel) is a stand-alone sequel to St. Aubyn’s Some Hope: A Trilogy about which I know nothing other than that it is the stand-alone prequel to St. Aubyn’s Mother’s Milk. Is this the first time a sequel has been nominated for the Booker? Probably. I don’t see that it should matter. After all, The Godfather Part II won the Oscar for Best Picture and is, some say, a better film than the original. I disagree – comparing the two is like comparing apples and some other kind of apples. Same thing with Alien and Aliens. Two completely different films, each complementing the other, that can be enjoyed in isolation or in tandem. Why this manufactured conflict between originals and their sequels? Why must Police Academys two through seven have to constantly bear comparison with their predecessor? I can tell you from bitter experience that it hurts to have an older sibling’s achievements continually rubbed in your face. But I got my revenge. They’ll never guess who laced big bro Kevin’s Milo with snail pellets, especially since Kevin, the only one who might have suspected, was reduced to a foam-spewing mess immediately upon ingesting the deadly concoction. What’s that, Kev? Something about me poisoning you? Couldn’t hear you through the bubbles, mate. Can I get you a bib?

Getting back to Mother’s Milk, I note that it is that rarest of birds, a funny Booker nominee. My memory is not what it used to be – ten straight years as a Guess Who? Grandmaster has its price – but I don’t recall a single amusing moment from last year’s longlist. Lit fiction of the Booker variety doesn’t do humour, does it? I suppose Rushdie can be funny in a way, and doubtless there are other exceptions to the rule, but in general humour is anathema to Booker. I mean, Tom Sharpe’s never been nominated, has he? I’m not being facetious – I’ve read Wilt at least six times but I’ve never even heard of 1976 Booker winner David Storey. Not that Mother’s Milk is broad like Wilt, it’s more Wauvian, Evelyn not Steve. That equals good in my book.

Well, I obviously have nothing much to say about Mother’s Milk. In the time it’s taken me to write this “review” I could have looked through the book, noted some salient features, and written a proper review. As my Uncle David used to say, hindsight is a wonderful thing, as is the sight of certain hinds. He was a filthy bastard, and I'm glad they locked him up.


Armagnac Esq. said...

Forget the book, the rhcp album was their best imho (i'm getting into this abbreviation thing, so I can be more 1337 in my writings).

Knock me down remains my favourite peppers song of all time. The pumping bit at the end where the soul mama sings her lungs out is my fave chilli moment. Just saying, back to the book.

Beth said...

"Funny" is all I need to know about Mother's Milk - it warms the cockles of my booker-reading heart. Hallelujah etc.

Don't think I've read any funny booker noms an aside, the funniest book I've *ever* read is Don Quixote.

Hypocrite. Opportunist. Don't infect me with your point of view. Bullet in a china shop. Eeugh euugh wahooo no no no no no no. I'm listening to Thom Yorke too (haven't bought the new album tho).

Ampersand Duck said...

Pat Barker won the Booker with Ghost Road, and it was the third part of a trilogy, so I guess a sequel can win the Booker.

Thom Yorke does get under the skin, doesn't he? I like this new album, it's good for a background sound that you can let your mind dip in and out of.

Tim said...

Just listened to Mother's Milk (the album, der) all the way through for the first time in years. I'd forgotten how good it is, Frusciante and Flea are really firing on every track. Now I want to buy the remastered version.

TimT said...

Regarding the eight queens problem, um, what do you think, erm, Bezzel meant?

Puss In Boots said...

What’s that, Kev? Something about me poisoning you? Couldn’t hear you through the bubbles, mate. Can I get you a bib?