We love a good hatchet job here at RSN, it's the best thing about writing – ripping shreds off other people's work. The Hatchet Job of the Year award makes a real feature of the savage review and rewards scathing, seething writers with a once in a lifetime prize of a year's supply of potted shrimp. Amazing.
The Hatchet Job of the Year Award was set up by The Omnivore website to raise the profile of professional book critics and to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism. The first Hatchet Job of the Year Award took place in February 2012 and was judged by Sam Leith, Rachel Johnson, Suzi Feay and D.J. Taylor. The prize was awarded to Adam Mars-Jones for his Observer review of By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham.
Excoriating reviews of Martin Amis’ latest novel, a book by a former Poet Laureate and Salman Rushdie’s memoir feature on the shortlist for the second annual Hatchet Job of the Year Award.
Eight reviews are in the running for the prize, established in 2011 by The Omnivore website to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism. This year’s judges are Lynn Barber, John Walsh and Francis Wheen.
For the first time in the prize’s history, the shortlist includes a review by an American critic, Ron Charles of the Washington Post. One reviewer, Camilla Long (Sunday Times), also appeared on last year’s shortlist, while academic Richard Bradford is in the unenviable position of having reviews of his books selected two years in a row.
The shortlisted reviews are:
· Craig Brown on The Odd Couple by Richard Bradford, Mail on Sunday
· Ron Charles on Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis, Washington Post
· Richard Evans on Hitler: A Short Biography by A.N. Wilson, New Statesman
· Claire Harman on Silver: A Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion, London Evening Standard
· Zoë Heller on Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie, New York Review of Books
· Camilla Long on Aftermath by Rachel Cusk, Sunday Times
· Allan Massie on The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine, Scotsman
· Suzanne Moore on Vagina by Naomi Wolf, Guardian
Said The Omnivore editor, Anna Baddeley: “Critics’ quills were noticeably sharper in 2012. Maybe they were inspired by the thought of a year's worth of potted shrimp. But there is still a long way to go. Book reviews are, in the main, too fawning and dull.”
Fellow editor Fleur Macdonald stressed that “the prize was set up to encourage fearless and honest reviewing”, adding, “the scandals over dodgy Amazon reviews highlight the need for trustworthy critics.”
Craig Brown on The Odd Couple by Richard Bradford, Mail on Sunday
It is a triumph of ‘cut and paste’ — indeed, such a triumph that by now Bradford must be able to press the Command button and C for Copy simultaneously in his sleep … never before have I come across quite such a shameless exercise in marketing old rope … Is self-plagiarism an offence in academia? I suppose it is better than plagiarising others, but I wonder what the professor would say if his students were to produce essays which, on closer inspection, turned out to be copied from essays they’d given in earlier?
Ron Charles on Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis, Washington Post
[A] ham-fisted novel … He’s ambling years behind The Situation and the Kardashians, serving up blanched stereotypes on the silver platter of his prose as though it contained enough spice to entertain or even shock … Does any other truly great writer make us wonder whether his brilliant parts are worth the wearisome whole?
Richard Evans on Hitler: A Short Biography by A.N. Wilson, New Statesman
It's hard to think why a publishing house that once had a respected history list agreed to produce this travesty of a biography. Perhaps the combination of a well-known author and a marketable subject was too tempting for cynical executives to resist. Novelists (notably Mann) and literary scholars (such as J P Stern) have sometimes managed to use a novel angle of approach to say something new and provocative about Hitler, the Nazis and the German people. However, there is no evidence of that here, neither in the stale, unoriginal material, nor in the banal and cliché-ridden historical judgements, nor in the lame, tired narrative style; just evidence of the repellent arrogance of a man who thinks that because he's a celebrated novelist, he can write a book about Hitler that people should read, even though he's put very little work into writing it and even less thought.
Claire Harman on Silver: A Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion, London Evening Standard
It’s not just that this plot is both boring and implausible, the characters as wooden as absent Silver’s leg and the sentiments screamingly anachronistic (the good guys are all 21st century liberals), but at every turn the former Poet Laureate clogs the works with verbiage. Every act of senseless violence Jim witnesses prompts a gem of cod philosophy or a reverie on his mental state and at every crisis a dreamlike inertia takes hold, as if the characters all sense that the author lacks the correct co-ordinates.
Zoë Heller on Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie, New York Review of Books
Hindsight, alas, has had no sobering effect on Rushdie’s magisterial amour propre. An unembarrassed sense of what he is owed as an embattled, literary immortal-in-waiting pervades his book … Some readers may find, by the end of Joseph Anton, that the world feels rather smaller and grimmer than before. But they should not be unduly alarmed. The world is as large and as wide as it ever was; it’s just Rushdie who got small.
Camilla Long on Aftermath by Rachel Cusk, Sunday Times
… quite simply, bizarre … She never explains why she and Clarke split up, only hinting that “an important vow of obedience had been broken”, or why he comes back, later, as X. There is very little about their history, or their conversations now. Instead, we have acres of poetic whimsy and vague literary blah, a needy, neurotic mandolin solo of reflections on child sacrifice and asides about drains. She can’t remember “what drove me to destroy the life I had”, or even explain why she wrote the book. This is a pity, as confessional writing is meant to be about truth — the whole truth.
Allan Massie on The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine, Scotsman
The book is full of what I suppose is wordplay about “coming” and “going” in a sexual context, about circumcision and the pudenda, about masturbation and fellation, about farts and the various forms of sexual congress, all named – boldly? proudly? It grows wearisome, very quickly. “Don’t write naughty words on walls if you can’t spell,” sang Tom Lehrer. Raine can spell. That much must be admitted. Nevertheless some of the writing is very bad … This is a very self-indulgent book.
Suzanne Moore on Vagina by Naomi Wolf, Guardian
My problem with Wolf is longstanding and is not about how she looks or climaxes – but it is about how she thinks, or rather doesn't. She comes in a package that is marketed as feminism but is actually breathlessly written self-help. Her oeuvre, if I can use this word, is basically memoir, in which she struggles to tell some heroic truth that many others have already told us. The great trick is to present this material as new, and to somehow speak on behalf of all women when she is infinitely privileged and sheltered.