I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Serious Business

A Serious Business

Brian Davey
Lost for Words, by Edward St Aubyn, Picador, 272 pp, £12.99, ISBN: 978-0330454223 When Penelope Fitzgerald was nominated for the 1979 Booker Prize (then referred to as the Booker McConnell), it was certainly not expected that she would win. Her entry, Offshore, was an oblique novella that had received mixed notices in the press. Frank Kermode guessed it would only make the shortlist “to be eliminated at the last moment”. Journalists covering the prize ceremony simply did their write-ups on VS Naipaul (the favourite for A Bend in the River) and then felt free to spend the evening getting drunk. Writing to a friend shortly afterwards, Fitzgerald gave her impression of the whole affair: “I’m afraid Booker Mc rather wish they’d decided to patronise show-jumping or snooker ‑ the novelists are so difficult and odd.” Much to everyone’s surprise, Fitzgerald won. That same year, one of Fitzgerald’s star pupils, Edward St Aubyn, would do his Oxford entrance exams and subsequently embark on the frenzy of self-destruction and substance abuse that would be channelled into his semi-autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels. This turbulent, vicious and darkly humorous pentalogy of books has been deservedly lauded, with the fourth in the series, Mother’s Milk, even being nominated for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. It ended up losing out, by a vote of 4-1, to Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. With the announcement of the longlist in July this year, the Booker caravan rolled into town with all the usual kerfuffle in tow. There is a sort of grim predictability to the annual event, which was memorably dubbed by the 2011 winner, Julian Barnes, as “posh bingo”. Every year there is the same debate about longlists, shortlist, who was included and who omitted, while five judges decide which novel is to be set above all others. For anyone involved in the book industry, or even for the casual reader of fiction, the whole scenario can seem entirely absurd and the prospect of a St Aubyn-penned skit is a promising one. Lost for Words arrived in May, cresting a wave of critical adulation for the Melrose series, which has also carried St Aubyn into the literary mainstream. The book came billed as satire revolving around a thinly-veiled take on the Booker called the “Elysian Prize”, “the world’s most famous fiction prize”. The judging panel are, by and large, unsuited to the task entrusted to them and far more interested in…

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