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The Man Booker Prize is given in England each year to the best novel in the opinion of the judges. Author Edward St Aubyn knows something about the fame and glory that go along with the prize. In 2006 his book, "Mother's Milk," was shortlisted. But in 2011 the prize committee didn't even include him on the long list. Well, now he's getting his revenge with a new novel satirizing the prize, the process, the judges and all the books involved. It's called "Lost For Words." Here's Meg Wolitzer, with a review.
MEG WOLITZER: You might think prizes are won and lost on literary merit, but according to Edward St Aubyn's new novel the whole thing is basically an insane joke. Here are a few of the books nominated for his made-up prize. There's the harsh but ultimately uplifting account of life on the Glasgow housing estate called "What You Staring At?" There's a novel from a New Zealand writer about Shakespeare that begins, William, Penn, do you know Thomas Kyd and John Webster?
Lad, said William, giving the men a friendly nod. And there's an Indian cookbook that was entered by accident. It was mistaken for a postmodern work of cleverness in depth. And St Aubyn sends up the judges too. One of the committee members, Penny Feathers (PH), is writing a thriller called "Roger And Out," that has lines like, Jane closed the glove compartment. She was about to face Ibrahim Al-Shookrah (PH), one of the world's most dangerous and ruthless men, responsible for the horrific, cowardly, tragic, and completely uncalled for deaths of countless innocent members of the public. And she was unarmed.
There's been speculation, although St Aubyn denies it, that some of the ridiculous judges are based on real Booker judges from previous years, which is fun and also a little mean. In any case, he's a smart satirist. He's able to call out the parts of modern life that are dumb and lazy. Penny Feathers uses a software to write her novels called Gold Ghost Plus. When you type in a word - refugee, for instance - several useful suggestions popped up - clutching a pathetic bundle, or, eyes big with hunger. For assassin you got, ice water running through his veins, and, his eyes were cold narrow slits.
I would happily have read an entire novel made up of these fake excerpts. But I guess that wouldn't really have been a novel. St Aubyn's earlier writings are brilliant and moving and disturbing. He wrote a set of autobiographical books called "The Patrick Melrose Novels." This time, he's aiming lower. He's still writing a novel, so he seems to have felt the need to give his clever send up a beginning, middle and end. But he didn't need to. What's great here are the moments of hilarity, or at least, insider-ish drollery. It didn't matter to me who won the prize. I was there for the ride, not the story.
I'm at St Aubyn super fan. He's one of the sharpest and most engaging writers in the English language. But he's best when he's writing about his own life. I know not winning the Booker must have stung a little and this novel is a fitting and very funny antidote, but if you're new to St Aubyn's work, then also make it your business to run out and read "The Patrick Melrose Novels," where the sting is a burn and the howl is inconsolable.
BLOCK: The book is "Lost For Words" by Edward St Albyn. Our reviewer is author Meg Wolitzer.
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