“Did you know,” said Patrick, addressing Seamus again, “that among the caribou herdsmen of Lapland, the top shaman gets to drink the urine of the reindeer that has eaten the magic mushrooms, and his assistant drinks the urine of the top shaman, and so on, all the way down to the lowest of the low who scramble in the snow, pleading for a splash of twelfth-generation caribou piss?”
“I didn’t know that,” said Seamus flatly.
“I thought it was your special field,” said Patrick, surprised. “Anyhow, the irony is that the premier cru, the first hit, is much the most toxic. Poor old top shaman is reeling and sweating, trying to get all the poison out, whereas a few damaged livers later, the urine is harmless without having lost its hallucinogenic power. Such is the human attachment to status, that people will sacrifice for their peace of mind and their precious time in order to pickaxe their way towards what turns out to be a thoroughly poisonous experience.”
– – –
This book had just as much biting, incisive writing as the first three books, but it felt much more aimless, at least in the middle. The beginning of the book actually starts out from the perspective of a newborn baby, and frankly, I thought that part was genius. The POV is from Patrick’s son, and we see him grow up from inside his head. It’s really hard to describe, and it was super weird, but it also worked really well.
The part that really got me, though, which was the same thing that got me during this episode of the TV mini-series, is that Patrick and his crisis largely doesn’t interest me. Patrick and his wife Mary are struggling to overcome the weights of their past, and Patrick is not succeeding very well. His children are extremely intelligent, and his wife retreats into motherhood as an antidote to Patrick’s misery, which threatens to bring everyone around them down. He can’t let it go. And meanwhile, his mother (with whom he has a conflicted relationship anyway), is dying and in nursing care, and her descent into a second infancy, but one full of misery and pain, only exacerbates his issues.
The quote I’ve excerpted above is one that Patrick throws out at Seamus, the charlatan who has taken his mother’s wealth in the guise of charity, and it’s a powerful commentary on how both Patrick and St. Aubyn feel about humanity’s fucked up priorities. But that moment is just one stuck in the middle of the book, which is largely made up of Patrick’s family life falling apart, as he teeters on the verge of fucking up his sons, not the way he was fucked up by his father, but in a different way altogether, because he can’t get over his past.
I’m very ready for the promised catharsis of the last book.