Book Review: Lost For Words

Lost for Words, by Edward St Aubyn

 (Picador, £10.39; ebook, £8.99)


Edward St Aubyn has freely admitted that his five hugely acclaimed novels about Patrick Melrose were rooted in his own life. Like Melrose, he’s of upper-class stock, was horrifically abused by his father and became a heroin addict. Yet the strange thing about these books is how funny they are, packed with a ferocious comedy that’s rightly earned comparisons with Evelyn Waugh.

Such comparisons are unlikely to die away now that St Aubyn has moved on to a full-blown satire of the books world, with the plot featuring a fictional—but clearly Booker-inspired—literary prize. While his concerns may be less introspective, his humour remains winningly dark and his one-liners elegantly brittle (“there was nothing like proving you were a team player to get your own way”). There are also some withering parodies—including of Irvine Welsh, with “Death Boy’s troosers were round his ankies”, one of the few printable sentences we get from a shortlisted novel called What U Starin At?

Not that the autobiographical element has entirely disappeared. After writing fiction “of impeccable anguish and undisguised autobiographical origin”, one character now wants to “win his freedom from the tyranny of pain-based art”. With Lost for Words, St Aubyn has surely done just that.