The Hatchet Job of the Year Award (for scathing reviews)

image-medium (69)Here’s the shortlist and the winner will be announced on Feb 11 for the funniest, angriest and most scathing book reviews  in the running for the ‘Hatchet Job of the Year prize’ from The Omnivore . The prize aims to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism and the winning reviewer receives a year’s supply of potted shrimp. Judges are Brian Sewell, John Sutherland and Rosie Boycott.

Two of the eight reviewers – Craig Brown and David Sexton – have previously been nominated and Frederic Raphael is on the list as both author & reviewer! The Omnivore editor Anna Baddeley said: “The recent high profile sackings of book reviewers and literary editors makes the Hatchet Job of the Year Award – which celebrates the books pages and gets people reading reviews – more crucial than ever.”

The shortlist is:

Peter Kemp on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Sunday Times
‘Outdoing even The Little Friend, famously a decade in the writing, The Goldfinch has taken 11 years to appear. These epic gestations are attributed by awed Tartt admirers and devotees of websites such as Donna Tartt Shrine to uncompromising perfectionism. “It’s because of perfectionism that man walked on the moon and painted the Sistine Chapel, OK? Perfectionism is good,” she has stressed. But it’s hard to spot much of it in this ineptly put-together book … no amount of straining for high-flown uplift can disguise the fact that The Goldfinch is a turkey.’

David Sexton on The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, London Evening Standard
‘Let’s concede that The Luminaries is a stunning feat of construction. The Booker judges knew, whatever else its merits, they were giving the prize to a tremendously technically accomplished piece of work. I suspect some exhausted reviewers praised it for the same reason. It doesn’t necessarily make it any good, of course. A ship made of matchsticks in a bottle is a feat of construction but not necessarily a great work of art.’

AA Gill on Autobiography by Morrissey, The Sunday Times
‘There are many pop autobiographies that shouldn’t be written. Some to protect the unwary reader, and some to protect the author. In Morrissey’s case, he has managed both. This is a book that cries out like one of his maudlin ditties to be edited. But were an editor to start, there would be no stopping. It is a heavy tome, utterly devoid of insight, warmth, wisdom or likeability. It is a potential firelighter of vanity, self-pity and logorrhoeic dullness.’

Frederic Raphael on A Delicate Truth by John le Carré, The TLS
‘Le Carré affects, as so often, to be making daring revelations about How Things Really Work. In the clever process, he stretches his thrills with mixed clichés, idiosyncratic phrases (can people “go faint at the knees”?) and witless dialogue whaleboned with “he retorted stiffly” and the like.’

Hedley Twiddle on The Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux, New Statesman
‘The rhetoric is so offensive and plain bizarre to anyone making her or his life in “Africa” that I had no option but to pretend that we were in a different genre, to keep imagining the book as a comic novel with a deliberately unlikeable narrator … this is a book I would recommend only as a teaching aid or to someone interested in tracking the final sub-Conradian wreckage of a genre, rusting away like the hulks of tanks that so fascinate the narrator along the roads in Angola.’

Rachel Cooke on Strictly Ann: The Autobiography by Ann Widdecombe, The Observer
‘Is Widdecombe’s writing any better than her dancing? No. About the best you can say for her prose is that it is accurate. Her grammar is fine – Ann is a stickler for grammar – and her anecdotes make sense in that they have a beginning, a middle and an end. But in every other respect her memoirs bear a strong resemblance to her paso doble: no rhythm, no beauty, no humour and, above all, no feeling.’

Lucy Ellmann on Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland, The Guardian
‘It’s determined to gross you out, offering a barrage of sexism, homophobia, shit, vomit, sputum, and all the other stuff of adolescent humour. Worst. Person. Ever. can only appeal to people who like to hear women belittled, and everything trashed – and it’s hard to see the necessity for it when we’ve already got plenty of trash and belittled women.’

Craig Brown on Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet by Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein, The Mail on Sunday
‘It is all a bit like watching a tennis match, but instead of the competitors bashing balls to and fro, they prefer to bash authors and artists more successful than themselves … Anyone unfamiliar with the literary world will, I think, be astonished at the ease with which these grand old men of letters turn into queeny old hairdressers, furiously bitching about their younger, prettier or more highly regarded rivals.’

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