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Lost for Words: A Novel Hardcover – May 20, 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 138 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Malcolm Craig becomes chair of the board awarding his country’s top literary honor, the Elysian Prize. In describing what ensues, noted British novelist St. Aubyn takes on the publishing industry and the horse-trading and ax-grinding among authors, critics, and hangers-on surrounding such awards, including the popular (and promiscuous) Katherine Burns, whose novel is overlooked in favor of a cookbook mistakenly sent for consideration by its publisher; interpreted by some as a new form of modern fiction, it makes the short list. Not wanting to read much himself, Craig is joined by judges Jo Cross (whose major criterion is “relevance”), Vanessa Shaw (“good writing”), Penny Feathers (former mistress of the elderly corporate sponsor), and actor Tobias Benedict. “Young writers were the future,” Craig muses, or “would be if they were still around and being published.” As a novel about the ephemeral nature of book awards, Lost for Words may itself be ephemeral, but along the way, St. Aubyn offers a hearty satire, full of laughs and groans, with snippets from the candidates, including the novel wot u starin at, an unsparing look at Glasgow low life, which bookies (the gambling kind) make the favorite. --Mark Levine


“Everything St. Aubyn writes is worth reading for the cleansing rancor of his intelligence and the fierce elegance of his prose…” ―Anne Enright, New York Times Book Review

Lost for Words is especially witty... a hilarious commentary on the dissonance between the daily lives of authors and how they are perceived publicly.” ―Maddie Crum, Huffington Post

Lost for Words is... a satirical romp that showcases... [St. Aubyn's] Waugh-like talent for comedy and his unsparing eye for people's pretensions and self-delusions.” ―Mikicho Kakutani, The New York Times

Lost for Words... is an entertaining squib... [with] perfectly aimed satirical barbs.” ―John Banville, The New York Review of Books

“St. Aubyn… executes his irony with phlegmatic and tightly controlled prose, underneath which lurks the trenchant exasperation of a veteran.” ―Esther Yi, Los Angeles Review of Books

“[D]eeply eloquent writing… St. Aubyn's mastery of language--and the resonance it can hew--can't help but come through.” ―Brian Gallagher, The Seattle Times

Lost for Words is a withering satire... a deliciously irreverent novel.” ―Jonathan Yardley

“St. Aubyn's is a subtle, dry, and often dark type of humor... [he] once again skewers privilege in a humorous way.” ―Jason Diamond, Flavorwire

Lost for Words [is a] savage field report. ...The best and meanest parts of the book are its pitch-perfect parodies of fashionable genres...” ―Eugenia Williamson, Boston Globe

“[Lost for Words] contains some of the best writing we're likely to read this year.” ―Hannah Beckerman, Huffington Post

“A light-footed romp and a notable taboo-buster… a frisky satire on modern literary manners and the funniest thing St. Aubyn has ever written.” ―Sunday Telegraph

“St Aubyn's powers of observation are as sharp as ever.” ―Henry Hitchings, Financial Times

Lost for Words is a fizzing satire that neatly skewers all the contradictions of literary prize-giving… Lost for Words is very funny, but it also makes some serious points about what is good writing, who is best qualified to make judgments about it… [The Melrose novels] are the most extraordinary transmutation of personal horror into great art.” ―Telegraph magazine

“[St. Aubyn is] an adept observer of the elite with a devastating talent for dialogue…” ―Chicago Tribune

“A tangy jeu d'esprit… [St. Aubyn] is such a bitchy, brilliant prose writer that any impression this book is a mere scathing divertissement is amply compensated for by nearly every sentence.” ―Metro

“St. Aubyn has a cut-glass prose style, a gift for unexpected metaphor, and a skewering eye… [He] is a conjurer, able to take that greasy deck of cards and make it perform tricks of a sort rarely seen anymore.” ―The Atlantic

“… St. Aubyn offers a hearty satire, full of laughs and groans.” ―Mark Levine, Booklist

Lost for Words is a... jaunty, often hilarious farce… very, very funny.” ―Alexander Benaim, Bookforum

“Edward St. Aubyn is among the handful of the current giants of English fiction. He has always had an eye for the sort of satire that does not exclude compassion and understanding; now that eye is trained on the absurd world of awarding literary prizes. The results are hilarious!” ―Edmund White

“A laugh-out-loud sendup of literary prizes . . . Both the author and the reader have great fun.” ―Kirkus


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (May 20, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374280290
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374280291
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #460,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
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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Format: Kindle Edition
In my review of Peter Heller’s THE PAINTER , I discussed being troubled by someone saying that writing is not art. Edward St. Aubyn takes this further in his new book LOST FOR WORDS. In it, I believe he offers one of the best defining quotes for art’s purpose: “to arrest our attention in the midst of distraction.”

LOST FOR WORDS is a satirical look at a famous literary prize awarded to citizens of the Commonwealth. Don’t let the satire fool you; St. Aubyn’s commentary is biting on every note. Formerly shortlisted himself for the Man Booker Prize (and already winning the Wodehouse prize for this book), St. Aubyn’s oft-times comical writing provides an incredible insight into this prestiged entry. In this, you may see the humor of a cookbook being submitted to the prize committee by accident, until it becomes an actual contender for the shortlist. Love affairs with editors or committee members? A quick look on the Man Booker’s Wikipedia page may suggest that this isn’t all comedy or even fiction.

Before reading this book, you’ll want to take note of the helpful summary provided by the publisher, outlining the three main featured character novelists. My favorite: Sonny, in his imagination of seeing himself paraded through the press as the main contender. Five other characters have predominance as the committee members and chair.

As the reader, you’ll be treated to some segments of these fictitious book entries. I love this part. They sound spot-on in their appeal. Take for example, a book from the point of view of William Shakespeare that’s a “richly textured portrait of Jacobean London” and is an “ambitious and original novel”. Sound like some description you’ve read before?
Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Have you ever picked up a book chosen for a prestigious literary prize and been at a complete loss on its merits? I have to say that this rarely happens to me, but when it does, it gives a queasy feeling. I remember one in recent history written with clever astrological references and declining numbers of words through the chapters. I still cannot understand that one winning.

Back to this book. A committee has been chosen to choose the Elysian Prize for a fiction book. The committe is stocked with political choices, well known literary judges, a very nice actor, and a random but earnest young woman. The satire begins almost immediately as these people peruse the pool of 200 novels and choose the long list by social pressure, an eye for "true writing", new devices, or favored friends. Most of the two hundred books languish unread, while others get a rousing first, last and random middle look.

This book is sly and addictive. Almost without exception, the samples from the short list are truly awful and represent the more stomach turning aspects of "new trends". The judges are mirrored through their writings, as are the authors. The whole thing conspires to bring a sad laugh from any lover of books in general. Depressing as the enterprise should be, it gave me an enjoyable few hours of cynical reading.
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Format: 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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