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Book News: Novel Mocking Literary Prizes Wins Literary Prize

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Edward St. Aubyn's new novel Lost For Words(reviewed below), an acid satire of literary prizes, has won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. St. Aubyn's brutal portrait of the book-award scene features, among other literary horrors, a French theorist who, in bed with a woman, muses on the "late capitalist utopia of obligatory permissiveness," a journalist who is obsessed with literature's "relevance" andlikes to get into Twitter fights, and a glum literary novelist writing careful books "of impeccable anguish." St. Aubyn was quoted in a press release as saying:"The only thing I was sure of when I was writing this satire on literary prizes was that it wouldn't win any prizes. I was wrong. I had overlooked the one prize with a sense of humour."
  • For The New York Times, novelist Jennifer Weiner writes about blurb inflation, observing that "a trip to the New Releases section of a bookstore offers more 'gripping' than a glue factory, enough 'absorbing' for the feminine-protection aisle, and enough 'transcendence' for a hundred ashrams."
  • Some Notable Books Coming Out This Week:

  • Edward St. Aubyn's brutal and lovely Patrick Melrose novels feature a family life that rivals the splendor and the depravity of the reigns of certain Roman emperors: Raised in extravagant wealth, Patrick was raped by his tyrannical father and neglected by his mother, and spends the rest of his life dealing with the aftereffects. St. Aubyn's book Lost for Words is (at least for him) light: funny, but with a gleaming edge of malice. In this parody of the hype surrounding literary prizes, a publisher accidentally submits an Indian cookbook to the prize instead of a novel. Instead of realizing the mistake, the judges hail it as a bold piece of metafiction and the bewildered cookbook author is forced to endure, among other things, lengthy conversations with a French poststructuralist about "the text-as-textile."
  • This week sees the release of not one, but three books by British author Geoff Dyer: two early novels released in the U.S. for the first time, and Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush,about two weeks spent aboard an American aircraft carrier. One of the early novels — The Search —is a quiet mystery, about a professional tracker who hunts for the husband of a beautiful woman he meets at a party. The other — The Colour of Memory —is about a group of poor young people drinking and wandering in grim South London of the 1980s. Dyer is a neat, careful writer and this is mostly an asset, except when the artfully incomplete pictures he provides are meager rather than suggestive. The best of the three is probably the new one, which combines skepticism with military order (and a wry horror of acronyms) with real awe at a great and terrible war machine.
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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