Edward St Aubyn has not been well served by British literary awards. Mother’s Milk, the fourth novel in his great autobiographical cycle about abused child and recovering drug addict Patrick Melrose, was by some stretch the best book on the 2006 Booker Prize shortlist (I read all of them that year in the misguided belief that it would help me in a job interview). But the judges garlanded instead Kiran Desai’s dismal The Inheritance of Loss. In 2011, At Last, the scintillating final act of the saga, was omitted even from the longlist. It did not, evidently, ‘zip along’, a quality that Chris Mullin, MP, one of the judges, declared pre-eminent among his colleagues’ criteria. Prophets have long been without honour in their own countries but St Aubyn can legitimately feel aggrieved at his lack of recognition. Whether he should have channelled those grievances into a satirical novel about metropolitan literary culture is a more dubious proposition.
I’m not saying the Elysium Prize, the totem before which the characters in Lost for Words all genuflect, is a stand-in for the Booker Prize but the resemblances are manifold: the sponsorship money derives from an industry with a clouded reputation; it is open, like the Booker was until this