With his Patrick Melrose novels, Edward St Aubyn secured his reputation as one of the most gifted British writers of the last thirty years. But it’s been a decade since the publication of At Last, the final book in the quintet. Although St Aubyn has been keeping busy, there have been few signs of development. In 2014 he gave us Lost for Words, a shallow snarkfest aimed fairly obviously at the 2011 Booker Prize committee (which had – ridiculously, it’s true – snubbed At Last). Then, in 2017, came Dunbar, a reworking of King Lear, with tragic results all round. Both felt slight, off kilter. The exquisite balance achieved in the Melrose novels – between autobiography and detachment, satire and sensitivity, chaos and control – was missing. The question that animated the series was: can Patrick move beyond childhood trauma? The question that arose from it was: can St Aubyn move beyond his biggest success?
On the strength of Double Blind, I can say yes, though not quite as resoundingly as I’d have liked to. The book recalls various aspects of St Aubyn’s back catalogue. It’s partly, for instance, a novel of ideas, which may alarm anyone who’s read A Clue to the Exit, his