Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels were some of the most celebrated works of fiction of the past decade. Ecstatic praise came from a wide range of admirers, from literary superstars such as Zadie Smith, Francine Prose, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michael Chabon to pop-culture icons such as Anthony Bourdain and January Jones. Now St. Aubyn returns with a hilariously smart send-up of a certain major British literary award.
The judges on the panel of the Elysian Prize for Literature must get through hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year. Meanwhile, a host of writers are desperate for Elysian attention: the brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker Katherine Burns; the lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black; and Bunjee, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm. Things go terribly wrong when Katherine’s publisher accidentally submits a cookery book in place of her novel; one of the judges finds himself in the middle of a scandal; and Bunjee, aghast to learn his book isn’t on the short list, seeks revenge.
Lost for Words is a witty, fabulously entertaining satire that cuts to the quick of some of the deepest questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and asks how we can ever hope to recognize real talent when everyone has an agenda.
©2014 Edward St. Aubyn (P)2014 Macmillan Audio
Dead Man Dancing
I wouldn't know
Sonny was funny
I would listen to Alex Jennings read the phone book -- wait, they don't have phone books anymore...
Very much an ensemble piece, With ESA and AJ giving each character his/her own unique voice.
I was hoping the Melrose novels weren't that one (large) autobiographical novel everyone's got inside them, i.e. a fluke of sorts. No way. Edward St. Aubyn is the real thing and I eagerly await his next offering (read by Jennings, pleeeeeze!?)
This is one of the wittiest books I've read in a long time. I am not an insider to the world the author describes, but it didn't prevent me from feeling like I knew the various characters, and thinking the whole thing was terrifically funny. Except for a few spots, it wasn't burst out loud funny; it was more all of the little interjections from the author and the perfect little plot twists that made it so enjoyable. The various characters are perfect: they weren't too over the top, as they sometimes are in parody. I know there was a start, middle and end to the book, but I admit I was so caught up in the character portrayals that the plot seemed secondary. I may listen to this again, because the wit comes at you fast and furious, and I probably missed some good stuff. The narrator's voice was absolutely drenched with highbrow sentiment, and he was great. It was almost like he was the one who wrote this book.
This was my first experience reading Edward St. Aubyn, and I quite enjoyed the ride. Lost for Words is a send-up of the British literary scene--in particular, the Man Booker Prize and all the hubbub surrounding it. St. Aubyn clearly took his inspiration from the controversy of a few years back, when a semi-qualified panel decided to invoke popularity over literary quality. Several of the judges for the Elysian Prize for Literature have spurious qualifications; others unabashedly admit to not planning to read all the submitted books, and each is promoting a particular book because of preference (e.g., one likes nothing better than Scottish historical novels). The hopeful authors have their quirks as well. (My favorite was an Indian writer whose publisher mistakenly submits his aunt's cookbook instead of his own novel, The Mulberry Elephant.) St. Aubyn provides subtle humor in the behind-the-scenes rivalries and passions as well as the public debates. I saw the ending coming, but it was still fun getting there.
Edward St. Aubyn's dazzling writing has been performed, not just read, by Alex Jennings. I own both the print and audible versions.
Sharp, funny and short. A very scathing take-down of the London literary scene focusing on a Booker-like literary award.
If anyone can poke fun at contemporary literature and the machinations behind one of its major prizes, it's Edward St. Aubyn.
His send-ups of the various gimmicky sub-genres that seem to be perennial fixtures on literary "buzz" lists are laugh-out-loud funny, perhaps made all the more so by Alex Jennings's spot-on reading of the affectedly authentic narratives (which range from a gutteral Irwin Welsh-style Scottish to a wincingly stagey Elizabethan English).
Indeed, far as the narration goes, it's hard to imagine that reading the print version of the book could be nearly as enjoyable as hearing Jenning's portrayal of Sonny Bunjee, the delusional Brahmin snob, or of the French intellectual Didiot, with his non-sequitur rants and comically formulaic writing process.
In fact, all of Jennings's character's accents are exquisite except the American ones, which are such a weird mashup of regional accents--flattened midwestern/ rounded southern vowels, hyper-rhotacization and dropped word endings--that it's almost uncanny how alien it is to any actual existing American speech pattern.
Fortunately the two American characters in the novel appear only very briefly, but when they do, the listening is painful enough to be a noticeable departure from an otherwise flawless performance, which was the only thing that kept me from giving it 5 stars. (Of course this is a completely US-centric opinion--Jennings's Indian and Scottish accents could be just as inaccurate to their native's ears--but there you have it.)
Compared to the rest St. Aubyn's work, this little book is mostly just silly fun--you certainly won't find more than the occasional glimpse of the depth and subtlety of the Patrick Melrose novels. But St. Aubyn Lite is still, well, St. Aubyn--no less brilliantly tight and crisp for the subject matter. And there's enough underlying commentary about art is and how it's recognized (i.e. a work of great art should, by definition, be original enough to defy the kind of comparison that an art award/competition requires) to give some welcome substance to the satire.
*no spoilers*Ever wondered how books are chosen for major literary prizes? Having a friend in publishing, I've heard plenty of real-life anecdotes which match these fictitious behind-the-scenes maneuvers to get your favourite book on the short-list: regional politics, sex, race, political correctness, and 'too long, didn't read' jostle titles on and off the list for a Commonwealth prize.
The judges perfectly articulated some of my own prejudices when choosing a book: [ugh, child abuse narrative in regional dialect: next!]. But the ending is rushed; otherwise this would have received 4.5 stars.
If you've ever been to a party and fibbed that you've read a 'hot' book and got called out on it: this one is for you!
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Edward St. Aubyn satirizes literary awards for fiction. The “send-up”, Lost for Words, eviscerates the awards’ process. Committee members, like all human beings, are corrupted by one or more of life’s motivations—money, power, or prestige.
Qualification for literary-award committee’ membership, in Aubyn’s view, is a play for power and prestige. Aubyn infers it has little to do with love of literature, qualified judgment, or experience. The five person committee, in Aubyn’s novel, ranges from actors, to politicians, to published hack writers, to ex-girlfriends. Literary qualification seems relegated to those who can read, or at least listen to a book. And, even with that ability, all of the books to be reviewed are not read by the committee members. The process of selection is a negotiation. Aubyn satirically argues that literary merit plays a minor role in the selection process.
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