Waugh, Spark, Wodehouse. The same comparisons kept showing up in each review. A golden age of satire revisited in this most recent novel by Edward St. Aubyn. Which of course made me want to not read it. If the name of my beloved Muriel Spark is to be invoked, it damn well better be pithy and elegantly scathing. A rarity. And yet, this novel delivered just that. And it was laugh out loud funny.
A send-up of book awards in general and the Booker awards specifically, this is a tightly constructed run through of the most absurd yet probable of inclusions to the long and short lists for the Elysian prize and an even more varied and incompetent assemblage of judges that must arrive at a winner. Subjectivity runs rampant as suggested by the visiting French writer, Didier: "The famous Elysian. In France we have the Concour. It is completely corrupt, and for that reason the rules are absolutely clear. That is the paradox of corruption: it is much more legalistic than the law! But this Elysian, c'est du pur casino."
The descriptions of the listed books will have you howling as will the interactions of the judges each representing their own niche perspective, but the head of the sponsoring company sums up the most cogent of descriptions of the contest in the novel near its end when he states:
“It’s a prize for literature. I hope it will go in the direction of literature. My wife takes a great interest in these things. Personally I think that competition should be encouraged in war and sport and business, but that it makes no sense in the arts. If an artist is good, nobody else can do what he or she does and therefore all comparisons are incoherent. Only the mediocre, pushing forward a commonplace view of life in a commonplace language, can really be compared, but my wife thinks that ‘least mediocre of the mediocre’ is a discouraging title for a prize.”
And there you have it. A definitely not mediocre read.