Stephen Romei’s Pair of Ragged Claws column
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.