Please join me for a four-week series of bacon bits – very short takes on top-notch current reads. Summer seems the season for tiny reviews of terrific books!
Today’s Featured Read: Lost for Words, by Edward St. Aubyn.
Quick Summary: Lost for Words is a (mostly) comic tale of hijinks at the highest levels of literary awards. St. Aubyn imagines what happens behind closed doors when five judges meet to decide the year’s winner of the Elysian Prize, a thinly-disguised version of Great Britain’s prestigious Man Booker Award. He also imagines what’s happening behind closed doors in the homes of several of the authors nominated for the Award or – in their own minds, at least – unjustly ignored. Do authors have steamy sex and juggle multiple lovers? Yes, apparently so! Do they scheme to murder family members who receive nominations for awards instead of themselves? Again, yes! Lost for Words sometimes feels like Bollywood in London, but then there are moments as well in which more complicated relationships are explored. It’s a mashup, for sure – a brilliant one.
Important to Know: Edward St. Aubyn has previously written the acclaimed series of “Patrick Melrose” novels about the son of an English aristocrat. One novel was long-listed for the Man Booker Award but did not win. No others were nominated.
Question to Ask: Would St. Aubyn have written Lost for Words if he had not felt in some way wronged by the Man Booker Award committee?
Answer: Maybe not. But it is not a bitter book in any way. It finds a sweet spot between farce, comedy, and drama.
You Will Love This Book If: You like reading books that have won awards. It’s a bit of wicked fun to think about how that particular sausage is made.
You May Find this Book Annoying If: You don’t care if a book has won an award or not.
When it came to running a committee, Malcolm favored a collegiate approach: there was nothing like proving you were a team player to get your own way. The point was to build a consensus and come up with a vision of the sort of Britain they all wanted to project with the help of this prize: diverse, multi-cultural, devolutionary, and of course, encouraging to young writers. After all, young writers were the future, or at any rate, would be the future – if they were still around and being published. You couldn’t go wrong with the future. Even if it was infused with pessimism, until it was compromised by the inevitable cross-currents of unexpected good news and character-building opportunities, the pessimism remained perfect, unsullied by that much more insidious and dangerous quality, disappointment. The promise of young writers was perfect as well, until they burnt out, fucked up or died – but that would be under another government and under another committee.
Regular Bacon Contributor Laura Cooper Recently Exclaimed: “Oh, I just finished the St. Aubyn! I laughed out loud for the whole thing! Truly loved it.”
Addendum/Poetic Justice?: Lost for Words recently won the 2014 Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction.