The recent challenge to compose the most off-putting book blurb imaginable elicited an avalanche of entries. This was one of those competitions that is both a pleasure and a pain to judge: a delight to read through but devilishly difficult to whittle down to just half a dozen winners. Virginia Price Evans’s entry was a masterclass in impenetrable jargon: ‘Policy Initiatives is an essential tool for civil servants responsible for driving effective public policy. Disdaining Ernest Gowers’ simplistic bourgeois maxims, the authors show how the use of prolix and abstruse circumlocution will facilitate meaningful dialogue and incentivize empowerment mechanisms, eventuating in sustainable outcomes for holistic governance.’ And I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to buy Jonathan Friday’s ‘groundbreaking exploration of the neglected beauty of bodily fluids and excreta’, which features ‘a striking array of scratch’n’sniff imagery’.

Other unlucky losers included Gail White, Chris O’Carroll, J.R. Johnson and Bill Greenwell. G.M. Davis nabs £30 and his fellow winners take £25 each.

G.M. Davis
Like Ernest Vincent Wright and Georges Perec, Gullermo Pozoverde has written a lipogrammatic novel, an extreme one. While the earlier authors gave themselves a relatively straightforward task by omitting only the letter ‘e’, he dispenses with ‘u’, ‘s’ and ‘a’ as a protest against America’s aggressive world role. Yet this is situationist aesthetics with a twist. Instead of using only words that do not use the banned letters, Pozoverde simply omits them from words that would normally contain them. Thus Brussels becomes ‘Bruel’, vagina ‘vgin’. Inevitably, there are many instances of ambiguity thrown up by this method, and therefore constant exciting opportunities for readers to be active in the creative process, deconstructing the rules that have held back their understanding of art. In a bold move to unite two sources of cosmic energy, the book comes with an inspirational CD of commentary, music and reflection by Yoko Ono.

Hugh King
Embittered by unceasing conflicts in his university’s department of linguistics, post-structuralist philosopher Murdo Mackintosh returns to his native Cape Wrath, devoting himself to translating the works of Jacques Derrida into Gaelic. Tormented by the complexities and ambiguities of the text (recounted here in meticulous detail) he descends into alcoholism and depression. On a lonely beach he meets the equally despondent Morag, an artist and fervent Scottish nationalist, who suffers from severe irritable bowel syndrome. She expresses her anguish through painstaking studies of seaweed. In her most iconic painting (the immensely intricate ‘Seven Types of Bladderwrack’) Murdo finds the key to his own philosophical dilemmas. A tender relationship develops, but the almost unbearable tensions of the impending referendum on Scottish independence, Murdo’s erectile dysfunction, a series of rejections by publishers, and the hidden dangers of the Cape Wrath MoD firing range, combine to draw the story towards its tragic climax.

C.J. Gleed
You know that feeling you get when someone at work starts telling you about the really amazing dream they had last night? Well, now you can experience it in the comfort of your own home with Brian Orring’s ‘Book Of Dreams’. With scrupulous care Mr Orring outlines the truly extraordinary variety of dream scenarios and then painstakingly categorises them into groups with common features, cross-referenced and diligently footnoted. This novel approach sheds fresh light on a phenomenon we’ve all experienced: did you know, for instance, that many dreams involve being pursued? Or that anxiety is often the basis for dreaming? These and many other very interesting facts are revealed by this exciting volume, which comes with a set of FREE DVDs in which Mr Orring discusses several of his own dreams in great detail. Don’t sleep on it — it’s a dream purchase!

Ralph Rochester
Sexually explicit and wonderfully authentic, this riveting autobiographical novel plunges us into the Belfast of the post-war years where the young, asthmatic and short-sighted Seamus O’Hara is struggling to survive in an overcrowded tenement. Here he experiences only appalling viciousness. We share intimately in his desperate attempts to deal with his disabilities as well as with a bed-ridden father, a drunken mother, beastly brothers, whoring sisters, bullying schoolfellows, bigoted schoolmasters and perverted clergymen. The only friend he knows is Cromwell, a one-eyed ginger cat. This book is a must for the serious reader and will reward all who have the courage to finish it. It is chock-full of clear memories and has been painstakingly written to remind us all just what a bloody-awful, wretched, woebegone, comfortless, forlorn, godforsaken, miserable and heartbreaking place this world can be. 

Adrian Fry
In this genre-expanding volume of counterfactual historical speculation, historian Dan Snigg combines meticulous research and epic imagination to wonder What If? What if, instead of being born into a life of privilege, power and political opportunity, Sir Winston Churchill had been a bicycle? What if Napoleon Bonaparte had stood 37 feet tall in his bare feet?  What if Henry VIII had been a Negress? How might the Great War have been different if fought by varying lengths of 5B graphite pencil? Concentrating on persuasive timelines and cogently argued political and economic analysis, Snigg uses these and other scenarios to shed fascinating sidelights on human history unlikely to be unearthed through study of the mere facts.  If you’ve ever wondered whether Stalin’s second Five Year Plan would have increased steel production more consistently under the direction of British comedian ‘big-hearted’ Arthur Askey, this book will prove an indispensable aide.

Max Ross
If you want a marriage of all that is challenging in modern art with the astonishing factuality of a scientific treatise on coal and shale, and you would like it in the best of experimental verse, then this is your read. ‘Mine Reader’, with its courageous disregard for the orthodox, will have you digging deep into its rich seams of technicality, searching for every twist of meaning that the author buries in lines that disregard conventional spelling and punctuation. Hooked already? You are here to work, this book says, and although the first hundred pages detailing mining contracts and locations require your full alertness, on completing the second century — one third of the book — you will already be an accomplished miner. The illustrations will tease you too, amusingly done in the style of graffiti. And did you spot the clever pun in the title? Enjoy!

Your next challenge is to compose a hymn for atheists. Entries of up to 16 lines should be emailed to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 23 April.

Tags: Literary competition, The Spectator