By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Alex Jennings
Edward St. Aubyn satirizes literary awards for fiction. The “send-up”, Lost for Words, eviscerates the awards’ process. Committee members, like all human beings, are corrupted by one or more of life’s motivations—money, power, or prestige.
Qualification for literary-award committee’ membership, in Aubyn’s view, is a play for power and prestige. Aubyn infers it has little to do with love of literature, qualified judgment, or experience. The five person committee, in Aubyn’s novel, ranges from actors, to politicians, to published hack writers, to ex-girlfriends. Literary qualification seems relegated to those who can read, or at least listen to a book. And, even with that ability, all of the books to be reviewed are not read by the committee members. The process of selection is a negotiation.
Aubyn satirically argues that literary merit plays a minor role in the selection process.
When one of the five committee members is classified as a writer, Aubyn offers an example of the committee member’s writing. The member’s writing offers a vision of a pulp fiction cartoon about spies and their guns. Aubyn is amplifying the ludicrousness of a bad writer judging the merits of other writers.
The publishing industry is painted with an equally corrupted brush. Aubyn creates the character of a beautiful young female’ writer, who may or may not have literary talent, who sleeps around for pleasure and purpose. Her most pronounced talent is seduction of publishers and fellow travelers that advance book fees and promote her loosely described “ability”.
To round out Aubyn’s satire, he creates an intellectual Frenchman that makes some sense but is so self-absorbed with wordsmithing that he writes an acceptance speech for a “cookery” book writer. The book is patently not a work of fiction but the writer is among five finalists for the prestigious literary fiction’ award. The Frenchman presumably knows the book is not a work of literature but composes an acceptance speech as an exercise in sophistry. The Frenchman is either being ironic or self-deluded by his way with words.
Naturally, Aubyn has the “cookery” book win because it is a book of recipes; not a work of literature. The writer of the book is astounded to have won because she knows–what the “cookery” book is not. She acknowledges the truth of her book in the acceptance speech when she abandons the Frenchman’s ghosted speech. The irony is that the audience claps with a mixed response; i.e. some clap loudly while others clap quietly. The reader chooses what the difference in sound means. Does a loud clap mean the author is commended for her honesty? Does a quiet clap mean the audience realizes the selection committee is a superfluous joke? Possibly neither; possibly both, Aubyn’s readers decide.