May 21, 2014
Satire of literary awards wins literary award
by Nick Davies
When Edward St. Aubyn set out to write a novel that lampooned the world of literary awards, the last thing he expected was to win one of those awards for the work in question. But the joke is on him, as he was presented with the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize this week, along with the attendant alcohol and livestock.
Given out at the Hay Festival in Wales every May, the Wodehouse prize is the UK’s only award for comic literature. The winner of the selected book receives, along with accolades, a jeroboam of Bollinger champagne, 52 volumes of the Everyman’s Library edition of English humorist PG Wodehouse, and a Gloucestershire Old Spots pig named after the book. Per the Bollinger website, it’s presented to “the book considered to best capture the comic spirit of PG Wodehouse,” known for works like his Jeeves and Wooster stories.
St. Aubyn’s winning novel, Lost for Words, offers a satire of literary prizes; the Guardian’s Richard Lea writes that it was “born from a period of reflection which St. Aubyn imposed on himself after the third novel in his Melrose trilogy failed to make the Booker longlist in 2011.” Summarizing the premise of the book, Lea says:
Lost for Words imagines a literary award full to bursting with feckless judges and deluded authors. The chairman is an MP who wants to stand up for “ordinary readers”…a fellow judge is more interested in the length of a manuscript instead of its quality, while the novelist Sam Black thinks it “out of the question not to win. And it was out of the question to have thought that it was out of the question not to win.”
Other books on the shortlist for the Wodehouse this year included Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, and an authorized sequel to one of Wodehouse’s own books, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks. On the surprise of winning, St. Aubyn said, “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.”
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.