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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Echoes of Waugh
Whilst lacking the subtlety and breadth of the wonderful Melrose books, Lost For Words is an entertaining romp with some genuinely funny moments. At its best, when the economical, crafted prose has echoes of early Waugh, it offers promise of real quality. However, for most of the novel he tells his tale effectively, without aiming for any great heights The objects of his...
Published 10 months ago by autolycus

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars St Aubyn light
Edward St Aubyn’s Lost for Words is a weak satire on literary prizes, in particular the Booker Prize and the 2011 judging panel. Headed by former MI5 head turned novelist Stella Rimington, the 2011 panel chose to focus on accessible books for the public to enjoy - because, y’know, reading can be enjoyable - rather than pretentiously written books, which...
Published 8 months ago by Sam Quixote


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars St Aubyn light, 6 July 2014
By 
Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Lost For Words (Hardcover)
Edward St Aubyn’s Lost for Words is a weak satire on literary prizes, in particular the Booker Prize and the 2011 judging panel. Headed by former MI5 head turned novelist Stella Rimington, the 2011 panel chose to focus on accessible books for the public to enjoy - because, y’know, reading can be enjoyable - rather than pretentiously written books, which usually take home the prize.

This angered the literati, not least because they have no clue how to write a compelling story, and the prize became the most controversial in years. That and the fact that St Aubyn was nominated for the prize in 2006 for Mother’s Milk and didn’t win, brings us to Lost for Words, a so-called comedy that very tamely claws the prize.

The story follows the selection of the Elysian Prize’s judges through to its long and then shortlisting. Each chapter follows a different character from the head of the judging panel, Malcolm, who’s an opportunist MP, to Alan, an editor having an affair with Katherine, a novelist, who failed to get onto the list this year because her publisher submitted the wrong book - an actual cookbook called The Palace Cookbook.

There are numerous other characters and at first it can seem a bit overwhelming - who’s Sonny? Sam? Vanessa? - but by about halfway through you’re more or less familiar with the cast. Except for the female judges of whom I think there were three but it was hard to distinguish between them. I think Vanessa was the one with the troublesome daughter and wanted the literary book to win, or maybe that was Jo? And there was definitely a third but her name and motivations escape me. It doesn’t help that St Aubyn can’t write individual voices so that most of the characters sound the same.

If satirising the prize itself feels a bit thin, plot-wise, St Aubyn throws in a half-baked romance plot that bores beyond belief. Katherine, the novelist, is included in this book solely because she sleeps with practically every male character. Sam the novelist loves her, Alan the editor loves her too but he’s far older and left his wife for her, Sonny the Indian prince kinda likes her, and so on. St Aubyn’s psychological analysis of Katherine’s behaviour is that her dad walked out on her as a kid so now she breaks off relationships with men before they can abandon her. Yawn. Wow, very insightful, never heard that before! So her inclusion was to deliver that piece of trite commentary?

There’s an even more flimsy assassination subplot as Sonny the Indian prince, hating exclusion on the list for his self-published 2000 page novel, gets his manservant to prepare to kill the winner. St Aubyn barely pursues this thread and gives up on it long before the end so that when it comes to the ceremony it’s hardly worth mentioning, it’s such a dead end.

St Aubyn also includes fictional passages from the shortlisted novels. “wot u starin at” is an Irvine Welsh-esque novel full of Scots injecting drugs, while “All the World’s a Stage” is an historical novel along the lines of Hilary Mantel’s books starring William Shakespeare, and “The Palace Cookbook” is literally a cookbook full of recipes interspersed with anecdotes from the family’s history. The joke here is that the tasteless judges think it’s an experimental piece.

The fictional passages make for an interesting change of pace but they’re not as well written as St Aubyn’s prose and not as enjoyable to read. St Aubyn also includes numerous passages from Didier, a French deconstructionist, who discourses at length on semiotics, which were the most tedious things to read. I understand the joke is that he’s being hyper-pretentious, but, yeesh, what a struggle to get through those passages!

Do we need to satirise the Booker Prize - does anyone take it seriously? You shouldn’t, it - and other literary prizes like it - are politicized like hell and the winner is rarely the best novel as the judges often have to compromise. But if you’ve read St Aubyn before, you’ll know his subject matter is often sharp and dark - drug abuse, child rape - so you’d expect his satire on the Booker would cut much deeper than it does. Satire is supposed to reveal hidden truths, right? As it is, you find out: writers are pretentious twits, literary judges are conniving idiots who know nothing about books and judge them purely for political reasons, and the prize itself is a joke. As if anyone reading this didn’t already know all of that! St Aubyn’s take is too easy and not inventive enough.

Humour is subjective but I didn’t laugh once during this comedic novel and didn’t really spot many jokes. One of the publishers was called Page & Turner (geddit?) and a novelist uses software where you type in a word and it spits out a pre-packaged sentence (because that’s how generic writing has become today!!) but St Aubyn’s attempts at humour are feeble at best. That’s not to say I didn’t like the book but it works best as a light novel gently satirising literary prizes than a great comic novel - that Lost for Words won this year’s Wodehouse prize only shows what a slow year it’s been for comic novels.

The parts where the judges get together to discuss the books were the best parts of the novel. St Aubyn gives us his take on literary judges and literary books, and that’s what the whole novel should’ve been about. The other parts, especially the extremely tedious romance subplots involving Katherine as well as the faux literary excerpts, could’ve been expelled from the novel with no effect on the story, and would’ve made the novel much more enjoyable.

Lost for Words is a book that rolls its eyes at literary culture while also giving the impression that its author is deeply entrenched within it. As it is, it’s good in parts, terrible in others, and it’s a light, quick read from a writer who usually produces work with more bite. But as a satire, it fails as it refuses to go for the jugular.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Echoes of Waugh, 10 May 2014
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This review is from: Lost For Words (Hardcover)
Whilst lacking the subtlety and breadth of the wonderful Melrose books, Lost For Words is an entertaining romp with some genuinely funny moments. At its best, when the economical, crafted prose has echoes of early Waugh, it offers promise of real quality. However, for most of the novel he tells his tale effectively, without aiming for any great heights The objects of his satire are obvious and personal, but hardly a revelation to any but the lest astute observer of the literary scene ( even from my distant perspective). Like Waugh, he has little emotional engagement with the characters he satirises and even the main focus of his ire, Penny Feathers ( another Waugh nudge) is not treated with great bitterness..The parodies that punctuate the narrative are a source of amusement and there is an overall sense of fun that makes this a satisfying quick read;it is, however, not the great comic novel, which I think he has in him.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scalpel-sharp Wit, 22 May 2014
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This review is from: Lost For Words (Kindle Edition)
I've hugely enjoyed Edward St Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels, but because of their semi-autobiographical content there is always a pall of sadness over them. How delicious then to see the author just having fun in 'Lost for Words'. Literary pretentiousness is always a good target for satire, and St Aubyn wields the scalpel of his wit with great delicacy in this tale of a major literary prize, of its judges and shortlisted authors. Because he is clearly having so much fun, the reader does too. Comparisons with Evelyn Waugh are fully justified.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Offers a good look into what today's literary scene turned to, 23 May 2014
This review is from: Lost For Words (Hardcover)
With ‘Lost for Words’ the author of ‘Patrick Melrose’ novels Edward St. Aubyn returns with style, bringing an ironic story about a famous literary prize award for which sometimes seems as if it is based on an actual event, not only on innovative and uncompromising author who is not afraid to convey his judgment what become of today's world of literature.

Though it’s written as satire, reader should not be fooled by that fact – as someone who was back in 2006 Man Booker Prize shortlisted for his work ‘Mother's Milk’ it seems that with his work St. Aubyn provides a humorous though not far from truth insight what is might happening behind-the-scenes of jury selection process.

In his novel Edward St. Aubyn brings the absurd that by mistake a cookbook becomes nominated for the prestigious award, and instead of disqualification by jury because work does not meet the requirements, it even becomes the favorite to win the award.

The book will especially appeal to fans of English humor, therefore do not expect while reading to lie on the floor laughing as is often the case with American humorous pieces, because in this case it is "serious" humor that makes smile staying on your lips even after the humorous part is behind.

Therefore, although I cannot say that I was equally impressed by this novel as with some of author’s earlier works, I can recommend ‘Lost for Words’ because it offers a good look into what today's literary scene turned to, and in particular what kind of circus the literary awards became which unfortunately are no longer a measure of quality, but of some other values which don’t have much in common with literature.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cooking the books., 10 May 2014
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Lost For Words (Hardcover)
Following his breathtakingly brilliant Patrick Melrose books, Edward St Aubyn turns his beady eye on the back-biting world of London's literati, specifically the annual Booker circus, here thinly disguised as the Elysian Prize.

From the ill-chosen Elysian judges and the chair who reads nary a word of the books through to sundry sex-mad authors, pompous editors and vindictive Indian nabobs, the cast of self-serving characters entertain and delight as we are treated to a merciless send-up of the literary fiction scene, embellished with virtuoso verbal ventriloquism in the form of extracts from the writers' appalling prose.

What's that? A soft target, you say?

Well yes. But St Aubyn's slender satire is so scathingly clever, so horribly convincing and so downright funny that I have to say I loved every minute of it. How cool would the Booker panel show themselves to be if they put Lost For Words on their shortlist!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed..., 4 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Lost For Words (Kindle Edition)
I was really looking forward to this after good press reviews and its triumph in the Humour awards. And it was quite witty, a quick read and beautifully written. But...I found it rather hard to follow - lots of characters and I wasn't quite sure which one I was supposed to be rooting for (maybe none?). And I'm not embarassed to admit some of the 'jokes' were of the 'in' variety and I am obviously not 'in' the right crowd. Ironic really, considering St. Aubyn wrote this as a bit of a p*ss-take of the lit crit world yet you can only 'get' much of this book if you follow said society. It probably won't be on my list of re-reads.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant satire, 20 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Lost For Words (Hardcover)
This book is hilarious. A beautifully observed and witty satire on the world of literary prizes, written by someone who knows. Edward St Aubyn has been shortlisted for the Booker (surely the target here) and has won other awards.
The characters are great fun and you will be left wondering which literary figures influenced their creation. St Aubyn has also created excerpts from some of the characters short-listed novels which, in turn ,gently poke fun at some recent, highly successful literary works. There's no doubt Edward St Aubyn is an extremely clever writer. But the barbs are gentle and it remains a light-hearted read, stopping it from becoming too vicious a treatise on a prize St Aubyn failed to win.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good and bad, 25 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Lost For Words (Kindle Edition)
So, this is satirical, sort of parody of the dodgy dealings surrounding book awards, by an author selected for said process...fun right?! It was, I did find it funny, and I did find it interesting, it was also beautifully written.

However, I couldn't connect to the characters at all, I would have liked to have seen more of the sort of behind the scenes stuff surrounding these sorts of things, more special access, ya know? And a lot of the characters where quite cliche and where like giant caricatures.

Perhaps this was too clever for me, but I felt like it didn't fully reach its potential.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but St. Aubyn light, 11 Sept. 2014
This review is from: Lost For Words (Hardcover)
Perhaps my expectations were too high, I've so enjoyed St. Aubyn's Melrose novels. This one is full of wit and insight into character, as ever, but it's very light and on the superficial side. The literary pastiche is excellent, often hilarious: "wot u starin' at" — and a few of the politics of literary prize-giving are finely drawn, and yet! In the end it's literature that belongs in a glossy society magazine. I could just about go for four stars, because I did enjoy the book (read in a couple days), but with respect to the higher aims of literature, I'll stick with three.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the funniest book I have ever read, 18 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Lost For Words (Kindle Edition)
If I could give this book more than 5 stars I would
I loved it ! so funny and so cleverly written , It truly deservs all the stars the are out there
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Lost For Words
Lost For Words by Edward St Aubyn (Hardcover - 1 May 2014)
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