No wonder they call it the Hatchet Job. Established last year by the British literary website The Omnivore, the stated aim is to reward – if that’s the right term — the “angriest, funniest, most trenchant” literary review published in either a newspaper or magazine, in a bid to “promote integrity and wit in literary journalism.”
Eight finalists are in the running for the prize, set to be announced Feb. 12. Zoë Heller’s takedown of Salman Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton for the New York Review of Books must be considered among the favorites. Not only did the fairly venomous notice receive a fair amount of attention, but any review which contains terms such as “egregiously uncharitable,” and “grandiloquent,” while haranguing Rushdie for his “lordly nonchalance” cannot be easily dismissed.
Likewise, another legend of British literature, Martin Amis, came in for a roasting at the hands of Ron Charles. His review of Amis’ Lionel Asbo in theWashington Post contains turns of phrase of which Amis himself might grudgingly approve, calling the book a “ham fisted novel” full of “blanched stereotypes.” As Charles wonders, “Does any other truly great writer make us wonder whether his brilliant parts are worth the wearisome whole?”
Elsewhere, Allan Massie goes to town for the Scotsman about The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine (“It isn’t a novel, no matter what author and publisher choose to call it. There is no real narrative interest and the characters are no more than names”). And Richard Evans sums up A.N. Wilson’s Hitler: A Short Biography thusly in the New Statesman: “Stale, unoriginal material … banal and cliché-ridden historical judgments.”
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Rounding out the list: Craig Brown on Richard Bradford’s The Odd Couple in the Mail on Sunday (“a triumph of ‘cut and paste’”), and Claire Harman on Andrew Motion’s Silver: A Return to Treasure Island from the 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.”) And both Camilla Long’s Times of London takedown of Aftermath by Rachel Cusk (“Oddly, I read the whole thing in a Bulgarian accent”), and Suzanne Moore slamming Vagina by Naomi Wolf in the 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”) will live long in the memory.
The winner of the Hatchet Job receives a year’s supply of potted shrimp, which he or she, you’d imagine, will be tempted to send to the subject of their vitriol. Not doing so would seem terribly ungrateful.
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