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Double Blind Reviews

Double Blind by Edward St Aubyn

Double Blind

Edward St Aubyn

2.92 out of 5

7 reviews

Imprint: Harvill Secker
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 18 Mar 2021
ISBN: 9781787300255

Expansive, playful and compassionate, Double Blind investigates themes of inheritance, determinism, freedom, consciousness, and the stories we tell about ourselves. Most of all, it is a perfect expression of the interconnections it sets out to examine, and a moving evocation of an imagined world that is deeply intelligent, often tender, curious, and very much alive.

3 stars out of 5
Blake Morrison
31 Mar 2021

"This is a novel of ideas, crammed with scientific data, that suffers from too much itemising and cataloguing"

The temptation takes place at a London party, the kind of set piece we associate with St Aubyn, when he brings all his characters together and plays them off against each other. There’s a similarly swanky party earlier, as if he can’t get away from his comfort zone. It’s not through lack of effort and he can’t be blamed for wrestling with issues he clearly cares about; ideas matter and so does the novel of ideas. If only the characters weren’t so cerebral and the prose wasn’t so crammed with data. When you find yourself feeling grateful for phrases such as “Olivia was chopping the vegetables” or “Lucy lay on the sofa” you realise the experiment hasn’t come off.

Reviews

3 stars out of 5
Johanna Thomas-Corr
24 Mar 2021

" The novel veers between jet-setting farce and musings on recent issues of Current Biology"

The most natural and affecting interactions are between Martin and his patient Sebastian. We are reminded that St Aubyn is at his best when he’s exploring deep psychological pain. But for much of the novel, it feels as if he is hiding behind a wall of intellectual discourse. Consequences rarely carry from one chapter to the next. Tension dissipates. If emotions, anecdote, psychology and narrative are so important, where are the deeper registers of empathy and pathos that made the Melrose novels so rich and memorable? As it is, Double Blind fails to convince either on the science or on the human drama. Maybe Thelma had a point.

3 stars out of 5
Melissa Harrison
17 Mar 2021

"a swirl of ideas"

Double Blind doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be a novel of ideas, but it’s nowhere near limber enough to be a literary farce. Instead, it feels like a sprawling first draft, following which the writer would normally go back and remove all the plot strands that are surplus to requirements, integrate or banish any swaths of regurgitated research, decide on a central argument, even up the tone so that, in this case, the reader knows whether they’re in a satire, an Iris Murdoch tribute or a roman-à-clef, and give it an ending. Why this hasn’t happened is a mystery — and a great shame.

2 stars out of 5
13 Mar 2021

"The primary problem with Double Blind is that it forgets to be a novel"

The primary problem with Double Blind is that it forgets to be a novel, with characters and story, and devolves into essayistic digressions on ecology, genomics, capitalism and science. The chapters flip between characters, but they all think like St Aubyn, with a quality of hyperarticulate fretting, and there’s a maddening lack of focus: one plot strand, where a character is diagnosed with a brain tumour, threatens to develop interest, but fizzles out too.

3 stars out of 5
Jake Kerridge
13 Mar 2021

"takes readers on a narrative journey so spasmodic that many will emerge with intellectual whiplash"

St Aubyn has lost none of his ability to create rounded characters – there is one who has schizophrenia, Sebastian, being treated by Olivia’s psychoanalyst father, who strikes me as one of the best portraits in the whole St Aubyn oeuvre – and the witty dialogue is well up to the standard of the Melrose books. To enjoy the novel, though, one has to accept that every few pages the characters will suddenly turn into ventriloquists’ dolls, delivering their creator’s essays in the form of internal monologues or one-sided conversations, before just as suddenly becoming themselves again.

4 stars out of 5
Alex Preston
13 Mar 2021

"there’s something almost insolent in the way St Aubyn glides effortlessly from one plotline to the next"

This is a novel with heart, though, and as the cast moves from Sussex to London to Hunter’s pads in Antibes and Big Sur, we learn what ‘the corrupting exposure to the habits of the very rich’ does to people, and what it takes to resist that corruption. Double Blind is both clever and compassionate, confirming St Aubyn as among the brightest lights of contemporary British literature.

3 stars out of 5
8 Mar 2021

"If it can be very funny... St Aubyn’s suavely reportorial style also shrinkwraps the emotions of his characters, if he’s a posh airport novelist"

If it can be very funny (one bravura passage derides Occam’s razor as a “minimalist aesthetic… supposed to adjudicate over intellectual life for the rest of time”), St Aubyn’s suavely reportorial style also shrinkwraps the emotions of his characters, as if he’s a posh airport novelist.... Double Blind is likable enough but it was eclipsed when I subsequently made the mistake of picking up my battered single-volume paperback of the Melrose novels, reading late into the night and stealing time in greedy snatches over subsequent days. In 2014 St Aubyn told the New Yorker that writing Lost for Words was a way to relax from the obsessive craft he brought to the obviously harrowing material of these earlier books. At Last was billed as the final instalment in the Melrose series, but in the same interview St Aubyn gave the impression that he hasn’t shut the door on a return. For this reader, at least, if perhaps not for St Aubyn himself, it can’t come soon enough.