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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

10 thoughts on “Lost for Words

  1. says:

    When Edward St Aubyn's dead and his legacy gets hammered out Lost for Words will be considered one of his minor worksDon't get me wrong this book was fun enough I read it in a day and when I put it down looked forward to picking it up again But ultimately I found it slight disappointing and not nearly as good as its writerWhich is you know fine We're all entitled to a good time and St Aubyn has the right to hit the little bloop single instead of crushing everything out of the park Though I'm normally very cheap and a big library user I plopped down almost thirty bucks for this skinny thing yesterday and I'm not bitter or regretful at all I'm happy to have supported my local bookstore FSG and this gifted writer I should buy new books often Lost for Words eased the pain of a trip to the DMV and provided an evening of diversion arresting my attention in the midst of distraction as one character might have it and I'm not asking for my money backThere were some things that kind of bummed me out about this book though A satire of the Booker Prize selection process from an author who's been subject to it sounds pretty fun and I guess it is but the book lacks the sense of special access that I would have liked Of course there must of been tons of this and it was just such inside baseball that it all just flew way over my head but unfortunately a lot of the characters just seemed like stock caricatures so it didn't matter if they were based on real people in ways that would've been hilarious had I only known And not to sound like a shrew but the female characters mostly sucked from the man eating sex siren to the not one but two negligent mothers who'd alienated their offspring by focusing too much on their careers I guess to be fair though the male characters kind of sucked too I felt I'd seen most of them before except for the Indian prince and there were good reasons for that Let's just say that if St Aubyn were normally a sculptor this cast of characters would represent his foray into two dimensional mediaWhich again hey that's fine man Paint a picture draw a comic take it easy for a change Here's the thing I didn't like here though no other readers seemed to mind it so probably I'm just too dumb to understand the brilliance of this book satire of low hanging fruit that has good guys and bad guys doesn't mean all that much at the end of the day It's essentially television That is it can represent something and make a statement about it but it doesn't really do what I think a novel's meant to do and expose a truth to transform the way its readers understand the world Some of the characters in this book are ridiculous idiots while others are I think supposed to be sympathetic real ish people and this split just didn't work for me At first I assumed we were all in for it but by the end I felt that some of us had become cartoons while others of us got to be turned into real boys with dignity by an authorial blue fairy and maybe I just didn't understand the book properly but I found this disappointing It seemed like I was supposed to side with certain characters' views of literature and come out of it all with my own cherished notions intact and I just expected to finish this with damage than a giggle at some pretty predictable targets That is I feel St Aubyn is capable of a brutal scorched earth campaign but he restrained himself here to selective shots and not very difficult ones Unless I missed the whole point which is always highly possible and in this case I'm suspicious that I didFinally a lot of this book comprises parodies of various literary or not so literary styles and while they're cute they're not nearly as awesome or as funny as I wanted them to be That kind of trick whatever it's called is one of my all time favorite literary devices but for it to work the way it's supposed to I need to look forward to the italicized parts I didn't at all here though and sort of groaned when I got to them because St Aubyn writing as St Aubyn is a billion times better than St Aubyn writing as Irvine Welsh or whoeverWhich brings me to my real final point which is that while the end of this book was completely stupid which did leave me cranky and the characters were lame it was still written extraordinarily well by a guy who truly understands the English language so who fucking cares? I'd read Edward St Aubyn's g chats in fact I kind of feel I just have and it'd still be enjoyable than most of the crap that gets published and given prestigious prizes these days which was maybe all he was trying to say

  2. says:

    The 2011 Booker awards season is the gift that keeps on givingThe chair that year was Stella Rimington an ex spymaster for MI5 whose purported link to literature is her retirement hobby of penning apparently adequately competent spy thrillers She wasn’t off to a good start with the literary critics who she likened to the KGB when she announced that this year the focus would be on “readability” One of her judges supported her by saying that for him the novels “had to zip along” Oh My God exclaimed the literati Zippiness? Readability? What about the quality of the writing of the deeper meanings and layers of the story?Well there certainly are books that embrace all of those qualities — they are not mutually exclusive But they also weren’t on that Booker list My own conspiracy theory was that the presence of Snowdrops was a case of mistaken identity the nomination should have gone to Andrew Miller author of the far better book Pure rather than Andrew Miller AD Miller author of the mediocre Snowdrops But once such a mistake is committed it would be impossible to correctIt was fun nonetheless to read the snarky articles and comments that permeated the book pages at the Guardian etc as well as the book blogs Redemption was achieved when Julian Barnes won And now it has also provided inspiration for this book This is a deliciously fun romp The sponsor of the prestigious book prize is Elysian a controversial manufacturer of herbicides and pesticides ”a leader in the field of genetically modified crops crossing wheat with Arctic cod to make it frost resistant or lemons with bullet ants to give them extra zest” They are the usual corporate bad guy looking for disguise in the purifying robes of “the Arts” The Chair of the jury an MP on the downhill slope accepts the job because of “backbench boredom” and a need to get public attention The jurors include a celebrity columnist whose “ruling passion was ‘relevance’” “The question I’ll be asking myself as I read a book is just how relevant is this to my readers” Another juror is an academic an unavoidable but undesirable type — but ”there was no harm in having one expert on the history of literature if it reassured the public” There is an ex girlfriend of the Elysian director in charge of the awards She writes Badly But her books are popular These were some of the funniest parts of the book written in a free indirect style of Penny Feathers Excerpts of her writings show flat plodding simple sentences notable only for the extraordinary density of cliches I thought of my GR friends when Penny rewards her own hard work with a Paris weekend at the Ritz ” a favourite haunt of Marcel Proust’s Although she sympathized with his choice of watering hole Penny couldn’t help reflecting that he was exactly the kind of author who would not have made it onto this year’s Short List She hadn’t actually read any Proust but she knew perfectly well that he was a long winded snob with far too much private money and some very unconventional sexual tastes just the sort of thing they had been trying to avoid”And just as the quality of the jury is questionable so too is that of the books on the long list This includes an accidentally submitted cookbook which the columnist champions as a “ludic postmodern multi media masterpiece” Could this be the parallel to the Andrew Millers mix up of the real Booker? It all proceeds in a somewhat chaotic fashion hopping from one viewpoint to the other and like all good satire revealing truths along the way ”Personally I think that competition should be encouraged in war and sport and business but that it makes no sense in the arts If an artist is good nobody else can do what he or she does and therefore all comparisons are incoherent Only the mediocre pushing forward a commonplace view of life in a commonplace language can really be compared but my wife thinks that “least mediocre of the mediocre” is a discouraging title for a prize”And who can resist the ultimate irony that this book turned out itself to win a major award The Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction which encourages even sniping — the book is too superficial the satire too broad the targets too easy It is what it is and for what it is it is a funny and well written commentary on the world of literary awards Just have fun with it

  3. says:

    Before I begin this review let me just state that I loved the Edward St Aubyn Patrick Melrose novels When my book club chose this as a monthly choice I was very pleased and eager to read something else by him Unlike previous works by St Aubyn which I have read this is a satirical look at a fictitious literary prize the Elysian Prize although the author barely bothers to disguise the fact that he is writing about the Booker We begin with a backbench MP with an ailing career Malcolm Craig being asked to chair the committee Hoping for some press coverage he agrees but is obviously only interested in pushing through the books he is backing and being generally in control Also on the committee is an actor who virtually never appears at meetings a well known columnist and media personality who is passionate about ‘relevance’ an Oxbridge academic with an anorexic daughter who is interested in ‘good writing’ and thriller writer Penny an old girlfriend of Sir David Hampshire who organised the committeeAlong with these characters are of course the writers They mostly circle around the beautiful novelist Katherine Burns and include the neurotic Sam Black who years for her Sonny an upper class Indian with designs on the Elysian Prize his aunt who somehow finds her cook book entered by mistake and a scattered number of publishers and agentsAlthough this was humorous and is filled with excepts from the various novels either submitted or written by the characters you cannot help but feel St Aubyn had fun writing this than we have reading it There are a lot of jokes that have circled around the Booker – bizarre choices books submitted by mistake and However it is full of stereotypes and did not really do than make me smile in places I forgive this author anything for the sublime Melrose novels but sadly this did not really match those in any way despite being a pleasant enough read

  4. says:

    The characters in St Aubyn's Patrick Melrose cycle are at once caricatures and possessed of extraordinary emotional depth In Lost For Words a satire of a literary prize closely resembling the Booker they lean far towards the caricature although some members of the large cast are granted real personality And a dash of angstEssentially this is a specimen of the English Comic Novel with its fair share of farcical situations silly names allusions to news old and er new and a few familiar character types Though being St Aubyn some of it is sharper and deeper than the typical example This sort of thing wowed me when I read What A Carve Up in the mid 90s but two decades later even though it still makes me laugh I find it a bit routine and occasionally clumsy comfort reading material I'm still not sure whether setting Lost for Words in a parallel universe one in which digital media either do not exist or have had no adverse effect on publishing sharpens the focus on character or makes the book feel slightly dated Probably both Authors with one or two literary novels under their belt can still swan about in hotels rather than working as the night porter and revising drafts on their days off They can email one another though At any rate it's nowhere near so dark as Patrick Melrose and it's a book I'd recommend readily What makes it stand out from a dozen other middle class comedies is the precision of insight into emotional pain and screwed up ness succinctly expressed and saying things others never articulate judge Vanessa decided to reclaim some floor space by throwing out the hopeless cases she thought involuntarily of Poppy's bed at the clinic being liberated by her death how much that says about the dynamic of the entire household and how crucial that 'involuntarily' is novelist and female Casanova Katherine likes sex so much partly because it's a liberation from something entirely different from all those damn words and the different detailed experiences of heartbreak of two characters And that particular way St Aubyn has of at once mocking and having empathy with a state or idea That shows best of all in the philosophical musings especially with debut novelist Sam who put his rejected experimental works in a box on top of the wardrobe and found acclaim with a thinly disguised autobiographical novel and French public intellectual Didier what they say is silly and arguably ivory tower self absorbed yet also pertinent and insightful in the situation It's a very British way of not being able to take things entirely seriously even when you are serious and he captures it precisely without ever explaining it I'm not generally a fan of novels about novelists and the literary scene needless to say StA has characters comment on that very idea and was a bit hesitant about what one of my favourite authors might do with such a well worn and insular topic Pleased to say that although it wasn't perfect I quite liked it it was genuinely laugh out loud funny and occasionally resonant

  5. says:

    A satirical and ironic telling of the back door dealings present during and leading up to the presenting of a prestigious award Although for the sake of the novel it is named differently it is said that this parody of sorts is about the Booker AwardThe maneuvering the picking of the judges each who have a book they want to make it into the short list One judge doesn't even bother to read the top twenty The authors themselves pushing their books to make the long list Really rather interestingThis author can put words and make beautiful sentences He is a master at adjectives and uses them with flourish Some of this book was very amusing but really never really had any feelings for the characters neither like nor dislike maybe appalled at some of their hubris There were even some pages of the some of the books being considered When the prize it announced the best book may not have won but the most honest person didMaybe a little to clever for me

  6. says:

    35 A buoyant if slight literary farce The send up of the 2011 Booker Prize race may be a bit obvious and some of the characters are rather thin but I found the literary pastiches especially of paint by numbers thrillers Hilary Mantel esque historical fiction Irvine Welsh and Slavoj Žižek – Didier was my favorite character absolutely hilarious And who wouldn’t love that ending as the whole competition descends into absurdity and view spoilera cookbook hide spoiler

  7. says:

    Here's a guy I've never read and whom I actually have zero partially formed snobbish opinions about And here's what Flavorwire says about this one Edward St Aubyn Saint of Bitingly Funny Dark as Fuck and Gritty English Realism we know how herculean a task it is to try and get readers talking about anything other than your perfect Patrick Melrose books Thankfully with Lost for Words you move on from deplorable English aristocracy to an even madder group of people writersDang Give me it

  8. says:

    Edward St Aubyn’s Lost for Words is a weak satire on literary prizes in particular the Booker Prize and the 2011 judging panel Headed by former MI5 head turned novelist Stella Rimington the 2011 panel chose to focus on accessible books for the public to enjoy because y’know reading can be enjoyable rather than pretentiously written books which usually take home the prize This angered the literati not least because they have no clue how to write a compelling story and the prize became the most controversial in years That and the fact that St Aubyn was nominated for the prize in 2006 for Mother’s Milk and didn’t win brings us to Lost for Words a so called comedy that very tamely claws the prize The story follows the selection of the Elysian Prize’s judges through to its long and then shortlisting Each chapter follows a different character from the head of the judging panel Malcolm who’s an opportunist MP to Alan an editor having an affair with Katherine a novelist who failed to get onto the list this year because her publisher submitted the wrong book an actual cookbook called The Palace Cookbook There are numerous other characters and at first it can seem a bit overwhelming who’s Sonny? Sam? Vanessa? but by about halfway through you’re or less familiar with the cast Except for the female judges of whom I think there were three but it was hard to distinguish between them I think Vanessa was the one with the troublesome daughter and wanted the literary book to win or maybe that was Jo? And there was definitely a third but her name and motivations escape me It doesn’t help that St Aubyn can’t write individual voices so that most of the characters sound the same If satirising the prize itself feels a bit thin plot wise St Aubyn throws in a half baked romance plot that bores beyond belief Katherine the novelist is included in this book solely because she sleeps with practically every male character Sam the novelist loves her Alan the editor loves her too but he’s far older and left his wife for her Sonny the Indian prince kinda likes her and so on St Aubyn’s psychological analysis of Katherine’s behaviour is that her dad walked out on her as a kid so now she breaks off relationships with men before they can abandon her Yawn Wow very insightful never heard that before So her inclusion was to deliver that piece of trite commentary?There’s an even flimsy assassination subplot as Sonny the Indian prince hating exclusion on the list for his self published 2000 page novel gets his manservant to prepare to kill the winner St Aubyn barely pursues this thread and gives up on it long before the end so that when it comes to the ceremony it’s hardly worth mentioning it’s such a dead end St Aubyn also includes fictional passages from the shortlisted novels “wot u starin at” is an Irvine Welsh esque novel full of Scots injecting drugs while “All the World’s a Stage” is an historical novel along the lines of Hilary Mantel’s books starring William Shakespeare and “The Palace Cookbook” is literally a cookbook full of recipes interspersed with anecdotes from the family’s history The joke here is that the tasteless judges think it’s an experimental piece The fictional passages make for an interesting change of pace but they’re not as well written as St Aubyn’s prose and not as enjoyable to read St Aubyn also includes numerous passages from Didier a French deconstructionist who discourses at length on semiotics which were the most tedious things to read I understand the joke is that he’s being hyper pretentious but yeesh what a struggle to get through those passages Do we need to satirise the Booker Prize does anyone take it seriously? You shouldn’t it and other literary prizes like it are politicized like hell and the winner is rarely the best novel as the judges often have to compromise But if you’ve read St Aubyn before you’ll know his subject matter is often sharp and dark drug abuse child rape so you’d expect his satire on the Booker would cut much deeper than it does Satire is supposed to reveal hidden truths right? As it is you find out writers are pretentious twits literary judges are conniving idiots who know nothing about books and judge them purely for political reasons and the prize itself is a joke As if anyone reading this didn’t already know all of that St Aubyn’s take is too easy and not inventive enough Humour is subjective but I didn’t laugh once during this comedic novel and didn’t really spot many jokes One of the publishers was called Page Turner geddit? and a novelist uses software where you type in a word and it spits out a pre packaged sentence because that’s how generic writing has become today but St Aubyn’s attempts at humour are feeble at best That’s not to say I didn’t like the book but it works best as a light novel gently satirising literary prizes than a great comic novel that Lost for Words won this year’s Wodehouse prize only shows what a slow year it’s been for comic novels The parts where the judges get together to discuss the books were the best parts of the novel St Aubyn gives us his take on literary judges and literary books and that’s what the whole novel should’ve been about The other parts especially the extremely tedious romance subplots involving Katherine as well as the faux literary excerpts could’ve been expelled from the novel with no effect on the story and would’ve made the novel much enjoyable Lost for Words is a book that rolls its eyes at literary culture while also giving the impression that its author is deeply entrenched within it As it is it’s good in parts terrible in others and it’s a light quick read from a writer who usually produces work with bite But as a satire it fails as it refuses to go for the jugular

  9. says:

    If you're into stuff like this you can read the full reviewThe All Seeing I “Lost for Words” by Edward St AubynAs I read St Aubyn’s noveI I couldn’t stop thinking “Man Booker” I think as readers we've definitely lost out Prizes are as much if not about marketing as excellence and when there is so much out there for the Booker to narrow the range of books highlighted short list? which is what happened in St Aubyn’s novel is a shame The book judges perhaps didn't see this happening and they aren't responsible for the overall picture after all UK doesn't have a national book award like the States and there is no Commonwealth Award any Getting and keeping funding for prizes is tough and some are very controversial

  10. says:

    Maybe 35? This was a very quick fun read but I'm still not sure exactly what I read Well I know I was reading a satire but there were parts that I was sure were serious I was just never exactly sure Most of it was pure farce but there's a point when farce can lose its point because it's just so over the top For instance the book contained 'extracts' from the short listed books in the fictional Elysian prize apparently a send up of the Booker which were so over the top silly and representative of bad writing that they almost ceased being funny except that that they often were in fact very funny I'm not sure how to evaluate the novel but I did enjoy it quite a lot