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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Why St. Aubyn will never win a Man Booker Award

I read all 5 volumes of Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels and, though in the end I was disappointed by the darkness and cynicism of the main characters, I have to admit that something drew me to these novels and kept me reading, and that "something" was St. Aubyn's incredibly sardonic wit and savage social satire. Yesterday I started and read halfway through his most recent novel, Lost for Words, and I'm finding the same qualities, for better or worse, maybe even heightened. The novel is a satire of the literary=awards game, obviously aimed at the British Man Booker Prize but applicable to just about any literary award or even publishing or academic post. First thought may be: who cares, other than St. Aubyn and a couple of hundred fellow writers? But he does make the satire so sharp and funny that even those with no stake in the game will be amused, up to a point. He skewers the members of the committee and their aspirations and pretensions (particularly funny is his portrait of Penny, a dreadfully awful spy novelist who's published because of her various connections) and the books under consideration for awards - a Scottish novel fully of obscenities, nearly impenetrable dialect, drug abuse, bar fights - can anyone see Jas Keman here? or the author Trainspotting?; a ludicrous novel about Shakespeare's friendship with Ben Jonson - and some various literary aspirants, notably a spoiled, narcissistic Indian man who believes his self-published novel will win the award. You can see the conclusion to this novel coming from a mile away, but it's still hilarious reading page by page and really juicy literary gossip, I imagine, esp for British writers who will have the keys to the roman on clef. Obviously St. Aubyn is bitter than he's never won - amazing how in the minute world of British lit everybody thinks he, or she, deserves this award eventually - and usually wins, and usually for one of their weaker novels, poetic justice - and now will have this novel a salve for his wounds: he can console himself when they pass him over by imagining they have black-listed him, and maybe they have. St. Aubyn seems bitter and angry about everything and everyone, and though I enjoy reading him, up to a point, I feel sorry for him and hope that he finds joy and happiness somewhere in his life because there's certainly none in his work.

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