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

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

A world in which book awards matter: Lost for Words

Re-reading (some of) Edward St. Aubyn's Lost for Words in prep for tonight's book group and 2nd pass through makes me realize how many parts of this novel are extremely funny - not only the many excerpts from the books on the list for the Elysian Prize (aka Man Booker - although I know there's some other big brit lit prize sponsored by a massive corporation like Guinness? - I'd forgotten the first chapter in which St Aubyn describes the corporate misbehavior of Elysian and its attempt to buy respectability through this prize). Top of the list for dreadfulness, and it's a close call, would be All the World's a Stage, the "historical" novel that, as judge Penny chirps, makes you feel that you're sitting right there with Shakespeare and his lads. Funniest line in the novel may be "Shakespeare's": "Happy the horse that bears the weight of Essex!" Close runners up would have to be the Scottish drug-pub novel - even the characters acknowledge its antecedent Welsh, and I'd add Kelman: "wot u starin' at?," which begins with a triptych of epithets and goes downhill from there. Even though it's not short-listed, judge Penny's spy novel, written with the help of software that suggests words and phrases!, as also hilarious (the sun sets "in a westerly direction" as she waits in her Audi "with all-leather seats.") Secondarily, the accounts of the characters lives, some anyway, are also hysterical line by line: Penny's comments during the judging, the absurdly narcissistic Indian prince with his unreadable novel that he imagines will be welcomed w/ hosannas (he recalls from his youth winning yet another horse race against the House Jockeys). The book falters a little on plot: I had little patience for the sexual predatorship of the lovely Katherine, was only vaguely interested in the various characters' troubles w/ the adult children, and found the assassination subplot to extreme even for a comic-satiric novel. All that said, a very funny if slight piece that leaves me envious of writers who live in a culture where book prizes are a big enough deal to satirize and to corrupt.

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