Monday, October 27, 2014

Sour Grapes

Count me among the avid fans of Edward St. Aubyn's semi-autobiographical series of Patrick Melrose novels (see my blog). These five books swing wildly from harrowing to hilarious on virtually every page. So when the fifth novel, “At Last”, was ignored by the Booker prize committee in 2011, perhaps St. Aubyn felt a twinge of annoyance, although he has steadfastly denied this.

But you know the old adage “Don't get mad, get even”? Well, clearly St. Aubyn knows it too. In his latest novel Lost for Words he imagines the Elysian prize, funded by a chemicals manufacturer, and proceeds to satirize everyone connected with it in any way. The judges, some of whom are identifiable to those tuned in to the London literary scene, for the most part don't bother to read the books and use their own idiosyncratic agendas to make their choices. The books themselves range from wot u starin at, a portrait of Scottish drug addicts written by an Edinburgh academic, to “The Palace Cookbook”, an actual cookbook mistakenly submitted as a postmodern novel. The character of Sam Black, who seems to be a stand-in for St. Aubyn himself, loses the prize but gets the girl.

St. Aubyn writes elegant prose and can be wickedly funny and insightful, but the plot meanders and it's all just a little too snarky for me. Better to stick with Patrick Melrose.