Bad News by Edward St Aubyn is, quite simply, the best book ever written about drugs. Thomas de Quincey, Charles Baudelaire, Jean Cocteau, William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Irvine Welsh and Will Self may all be writers roped together like mountaineers heading for the summit, but it is St Aubyn they will find at the top. I first came across the book about five years ago. There it was, quietly glowing away on a friend’s shelf. And from the moment I picked it up I knew it was a work of perfection. It fitted my own experience as seamlessly as a silk glove.
Bad News is the second book in St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose trilogy. Each part covers one day in the life of its protagonist – days that encapsulate the causes, the consequences and the resolution of a cruelly damaged childhood. Patrick Melrose is physically abused by his father, becomes a junkie and then tries to seek redemption after going straight.
The first book, Never Mind, set in the South of France, examines a family who find themselves trapped like spiders in a bottle, forced to devour one another. Bad News takes Patrick to New York to pick up his deceased father’s ashes, and traces his descent into narcotic oblivion. The last, Some Hope, is an excoriating attack on upper-class English society, seen as it descends upon a marquee in the country for a grand dinner party at which Princess Margaret is present. Patrick, who has now given up drugs, makes a merciless spectator.
Each part is brilliant. But it is the second that unlocked images for me, for I looked into its dark mirror and saw myself.
By the time I was in my thirties crack had taken me like an eagle grabbing a rabbit. Heroin was the elixir that soothed my senses and brought me back down to earth. I took drugs as an escape from a life I found unendurable. I took drugs because I enjoyed taking them. The fixing ritual becomes the sweetest form of pleasure – the needle, the belt r
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