Let's hope that Edward St Aubyn’s accomplished first novel is not a roman-à-clef. When we first encounter his hero, failed doctor David Melrose, he is using the early hours of the morning to water his Provençal garden, taking care to massacre as many ants as he can with the jet from his hosepipe. His wealthy wife, Eleanor, has already greeted the new day by having a good old vomit and cutting the phlegm with her first shot of vodka, in preparation for the arrival of her houseguests.
Their unloved – although ‘unloved’ doesn’t quite cover it – five-year-old son, Patrick, wanders the garden hoping to see the tree-frog that lives in the fig-tree and dispassionately recalls his own small and ingenious acts of malice. Patrick has recently told his weedy friend Andrew that he’s going to throw