Stephen Romei’s Pair of Ragged Claws col­umn

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Stephen Romei www.theaus­

BOOKS to look out for in the next few months, con­tin­ued. If you read a fun­nier book this year than Ed­ward St Aubyn’s Lost for Words, to be pub­lished by Pi­cador in May, be sure to let me know. St Aubyn is best-known for the ex­quis­ite and trau­matic semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal Patrick Mel­rose nov­els, one of the finest fic­tion cy­cles in English lit­er­a­ture. Lost for Words is a lighter book, though the reader can only as­sume it, too, is drawn from an­other im­per­fect chap­ter in the au­thor’s life. The story cen­tres on the an­nual Elysian Prize, a fic­tion award ob­vi­ously based on the Man Booker. The cast of char­ac­ters can be di­vided into two main, in­ter­sect­ing groups: the au­thors in con­tention for the prize and the panel of judges who will de­cide who re­ceives it. St Aubyn’s acid pen skew­ers both camps, as well as the cor­po­rate, po­lit­i­cal and me­dia in­ter­ests that in­flu­ence such prizes. While the Patrick Mel­rose nov­els are archly funny, their gen­e­sis lies in al­most unimag­in­able dark­ness. Lost for Words is a novel lib­er­ated from that dark­ness. When a lit­er­ary aca­demic is pro­posed for the judg­ing panel, the chair, an am­bi­tious MP, de­cides there is “no harm hav­ing one ex­pert on the his­tory of lit­er­a­ture, if it re­as­sured the pub­lic’’. An­other judge con­sid­ers the “won­der­ful thing about his­tor­i­cal nov­els’’ is that “one met so many fa­mous people. It was like read­ing a very old copy of Hello! mag­a­zine.’’ And I love that an­other judge, a hand­some young ac­tor, is rarely avail­able be­cause he is “play­ing Es­tragon in a hip-hop adap­ta­tion of Wait­ing for Godot’’.

Lost for Words is also one of those fic­tions sure to be read by those keen to iden­tify the “real’’ people be­hind the char­ac­ters: St Aubyn was short­listed for the 2006 Man Booker for the fourth Patrick Mel­rose novel, Mother’s Milk, but the prize went to In­dian-born writer Ki­ran De­sai for The In­her­i­tance of Loss. I’ll leave that guess­ing game to oth­ers — but I do rec­om­mend you put this one on your to-read list. WHILE we are look­ing ahead, word has slipped out that Ian McEwan’s new novel, due from

Ran­dom House later this year, is called The

Chil­dren’s Act and will ex­plore the lives of con­joined twins. While the pub­lisher has no up­date on the book, or­gan­is­ers of Bri­tain’s Charleston Fes­ti­val have an­nounced McEwan will dis­cuss the novel in “a rare pre-pub­li­ca­tion con­ver­sa­tion’’ on May 17. “His forth­com­ing novel high­lights the eth­i­cal dilem­mas when re­li­gious con­vic­tion seeks to pre­vent med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion,’’ the event blurb reads. While that sounds fas­ci­nat­ing, the Charleston ses­sion I’d most like to at­tend is Tim Win­ton and Nor­we­gian writer Karl Ove Knaus­gaard shar­ing the stage on May 22 to talk about their new nov­els, Eyrie and Boy­hood Is­land. AND still on the fu­ture: ex­cit­ing news this week

that Peter Carey’s new novel, Am­ne­sia, will be pub­lished by Pen­guin on Oc­to­ber 14. The novel, which the dual Booker win­ner has had in the back of his mind for decades, cen­tres on Aus­tralia’s re­la­tion­ship with the US and spans World War II to the near present. The PR ma­te­rial sug­gests it opens in 2010 with a com­puter hack­ing at­tack that springs open the doors of hun­dreds of US-man­aged Aus­tralian pris­ons: “Has a young Aus­tralian woman de­clared cy­ber war on the US? Or was her An­gel Worm in­tended only to open the prison doors of those un­for­tu­nates de­tained by Aus­tralia’s harsh im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies?’’ IT’S a plea­sure to­day to pub­lish Robert Gray’s

beau­ti­ful poem Beach House. The Syd­ney poet, writer, critic and edi­tor tells us this is the first poem he has pub­lished in a news­pa­per in 55 years of writ­ing po­etry. Though he adds it’s also the first one he has sub­mit­ted to a news­pa­per.

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