Politics may bring together strange bedfellows but so apparently does the world of literary competition. In Lost for Words, novelist Edward St. Aubyn gathers an eclectic and entertaining entourage of oddly matched bedfellows and lets them loose on the literary world. Led by an obscure Member of Parliament, who accepts the chairman’s post as a means of garnering public attention, the committee is charged with selecting the winner of the prestigious Elysian Prize for Literature.
“Sometimes you have to read the judges rather than the books,” notes one player, an observation that is painfully realized as the quirky tale unfolds. The committee members have their own agendas for selecting the year’s best novel, and only one concerns actual literary merit. Entries range from wot u starin at, touted as a paean to gritty social realism, to The Palace Cookbook, a compilation of recipes and family lore that makes it into the mix thanks to a publisher’s egregious error.
The novel is funny and snarky, over the top in its depictions of both writers and judges and a tongue-in-cheek send up to the process of selecting a winner in any artistic competition. In the world created by St. Aubyn – who lost out on the Man Booker Prize in 2006 – winning the prize has nothing to do with literary merit. Sour grapes, perhaps, but a romping good read for the rest of us.
Scandal, incompetence, and self-interest rule the day in this witty and Waughish novel. What’s a struggling writer to do? Keep writing, it seems, while hoping that luck brings both fame and fortune to one’s door.
Edward St. Aubyn is the author of the highly acclaimed and largely autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels, drawn from what The New Yorker calls the “poisoned legacy” of his life.
Tags: Book of the Year, literary competition. Elysian Prize, satire, intrigue, wit, writers, Edward St. Aubyn, British literature