Mother’s Milk by Edward St. Aubyn

As might be expected from the title, this is a novel which centres largely around motherhood, mothering and the effect that it has on people’s lives.

The Melrose family is in freefall.  The father, Patrick is torn between feelings of betrayal and compassion for his mother – betrayal because he feels that she has always been utterly selfless to everyone except her own family, and it now looks as if he will be disinherited, and compassion because of her deteriorating mental and physical health.  Additionally, he feels neglected by his wife, who has just given birth to their second son, and is totally wrapped up in the demands of motherhood.  In an effort to console himself, he lurches from one vice to another.

His wife Mary feels that she has lost all sense of self, and knows that her husband is frustrated at what he perceives as her obsession with being a good mother.  Mary is determined that she will give her children the love and affection that her own mother failed to give her.

Their five year old son Robert is a child wise beyond his years, and at the start of the book, he is a little put out by the arrival of a new baby brother.


The book is told in the third person but most of the sections (there are four, told over four consecutive summers) focus on events from just one person’s point of view.  I have mixed feelings about it; it started off promisingly, but eventually I was happy to finish it.  

There is actually very little plot, although this was not a problem for me.  The book simply paints a portrait of a family which has fallen on hard times, financially and emotionally.  All of the characters were certainly very well drawn and believeable, but after a while I stopped caring about what happened to them.  There were however some moments of genuinely bitter humour, and I laughed out loud on a couple of occasions. However, this is not a work of comedy.  It was well written and credible, but ultimately, it left me fairly cold.

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