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Lost for Words /Edward St Aubyn

Edward St Aubyn made his name with a series of novels, five in all,  featuring Patrick Melrose who was raped by his father. These are rather searing though extremely well written and in parts amusing. One literary friend of mine was reduced to tears by them. They generally had clever ambiguous titles like Some Hope or At Last.

In Lost for Words he changes theme to write a satire about a book prize – clearly the Booker – but entitled the Elysian. Again it is amusing and well written but the after taste on completing it was unsatisfying. A book is composed of several parts: plot, writing, dialogue and characterisation. It was in characterisation where the novel failed. Take for example one of the principals, Katherine. She was a great beauty with a sexual stranglehold over men. Yet I could never visualise this, it was stated as fact. Or the foreign office mandarine Penny Feathers. She never really came off the pages to a credible personality. The novel was better on the pettiness of the jury, their bitchiness, intrigue and deal-marking which does characterise such book prize giving. However most of us knew this anyway. I have mentioned 4 constituents of a novel but there is one more, namely the standpoint of the writer. Some authors do like you to know how clever they are. I was impressed by the American James Salter but less impressed when he began to lecture on Johann Strauss, Kandinsky and Mahler in his novel All That Is. Similarly I sensed Edward St Aubyn felt that as a writer he was above the shenanigans of the book prize. He probably is but that is for others tojudge.

It is a clever satire. He parodies the idiotic books selected with invented passages from them. The final scene in the Fishmongers Hall is hilarious. The wit is throughout. But somehow I felt the novel lacked the profundity of the Patrick Melrose novels.

About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts