There are some novelists who, when you read them, you really feel like you get to know them. And you like them. My literary crush on Patrick Ness is well documented, but I’d also happily go for a pint with Stephen King, Sarah Waters, David Mitchell and so on. Purely based on how much I enjoy their books and how their voice comes across in it, you understand. Based on this so-called novel, I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near Edward St Aubyn. Not only is he a godawful smug twat, but he’s also a very bitter one.
St Aubyn has never won the Booker prize. He was shortlisted for it back in 2006, but failed to clinch the prize (it went to The Inheritance of Loss, which I hated. In my humble opinion, it should have gone to The Night Watch). Five years after St Aubyn was so egregiously overlooked, the Booker prize found itself in a bit of a pickle. Chaired by Stella Rimington, the ex-head of MI5 turned author, the opinions of her and the judges was repeatedly criticised for being simplistic, plebeian and so on and so forth. Redeemed by choosing The Sense of an Ending as the eventual winner, you would think that three years later, it should really fade into the mists of time.
But St Aubyn doesn’t think it should. With Lost For Words, he gives us a thinly fictionalised Booker Prize, here renamed the Elysian, with an awful lot of similarities to the 2011 hoo-ha. And it has to be one of the most unfunny, unpleasant, and borderline unreadable steaming piles of shite I’ve read in a very VERY long time. Among the “characters” (the only one St Aubyn attempts to give more than two dimensions to is the lovelorn debut novelist, Sam Black. Black has written, we’re repeatedly told, the only worthwhile book on the Elysian shortlist. I wonder who St Aubyn based him on?), are Katherine Burns, who is desperate for the attention of the Elysian committee, her publisher, who she’s having an affair with, an Indian prince who’s written what he is convinced is a masterpiece, and his aunt, whose cookbook is submitted to the committee in error, instead of Katherine’s book. When it ends up on the longlist for the prize, it starts to go from bad to worse.
With me so far? This slender tome drips ugly bitterness from every page. There are several many “excerpts” from the Elysian books and the books written by the judging panel (that’ll be the Rimington-esque judge then). All of them are all too obvious in who they’re skewering and none of them are really readable. St Aubyn seems blissfully unaware the message he’s sending out is “you’re so beneath me” with these horribly constructed paragraphs. Another character, the French philosopher Didier, speaks in unfathomable and VERY long speeches, none of which are remotely interesting or amusing. You’ve got the joke, such as it is (oh hey, he’s really pompous, oh my sides), after about a sentence and a half, but you’ve still got whole paragraphs to mirthlessly wade through. For me, St Aubyn really missed the point that for satire to really work, it has to be somewhat good natured. Joe Keenan and James Hamilton Paterson have written books along similar lines that have had me roaring with laughter. I didn’t so much as smile even once at this godforsaken and worthless piece of crap.
Far from going for a pint with St Aubyn, after this I’m far likelier to grab the nearest hardback and brain him with it, before calling him a name that rhymes with “blunt”. This book is AWFUL and it’s a real shame the author has absolutely no idea what a total tool it makes him look.