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

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Very funny satire of "a world that just does not exist"

Tepid discussion last night as book group minus one met over Edward St. Aubyn's farcical satire Lost for Words - all agreed it was a very funny book, especially the excerpts from the various books up for contention for the Elysian Prize plus the spy novel in progress by ditzy prize judge Penny Feathers. We laughed reading some of the passages aloud; I in particular admired St Aubyn's way of nailing home a point with a single word or phrase: the sun setting "in a westerly direction," the item purchased as "Sotheby's, Geneva." JRi greatly, as was I, by the supposed historical novel about Shakespeare and friends, which opens something like: "Ben!" "William!" "Do you both know John Webster?" "Lads!" - and also includes a scene of young William with his nurse (Rosalind), who observes that one of William's favorite pastimes is comparing one thing with another! All said and done, however, we felt the book wasn't much more than a romp: the plot such as it was was silly, the characters pretty much just sketches and types. We valiantly tried to find more meaning in the novel: I wondered about the overall sense of British culture, a last vestige of high-minded devotion to art and culture complete enervated by petty politics and logrolling? I was also struck by how inaccurate their portrait of contemporary British literature was: you'd think from this that the top books in English-language fiction are all insipid; American writers aside (this satire looks back on the days when Americans did not compete for the Man Booker), where in this world is Marin Amis, Ian McEwen, Peter Carey Monica Ali, Ali Smith, Rohynton Mistry - just to name a very few of the established English-language contenders, not to even mention the many rising stars, especially from Africa and Asia? Not present. St. Aubyn's satire is very funny and even "brilliant," as the English say, but in a way he's picking easy targets and satirizing a world that "just does not exist." He's a very dark guy and dangerous foe, I think, and readers have to wonder how much bitterness and how many personal slights this novel avenges - or creates.

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