A critic might say there's an art to penning an intelligently biting review and now a new literary award has been established to celebrate such assessments.
The Omnivore — a British website that posts a curated selection of book, film and theatre reviews — has announced eight finalists for its inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year Award.
An annual honour, the Hatchet Job Award "will be presented to the author of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review" of the past 12 months, organizers said.
The goal is to "raise the profile of professional critics and to promote honesty and wit in literary journalism... [The prize] rewards critics who have the courage to overturn received opinion, and who do so with style. Most of all, it is a public celebration of that most underpaid and undervalued form of journalism: the book review."
Many of the shortlisted reviewers are nominated for withering critiques. For instance, about Martin Amis: The Biography, Leo Robson wrote that the book "is full of repetition, contradictions and small, avoidable errors: Bradford seems to get things slightly wrong almost as a matter of principle. It is also full of spectacularly bad writing — about spectacularly good writing."
Similarly, in the Sunday Times, Camilla Long kicked off her critique of the novel With the Kisses of His Mouth by describing it as "clearly intended to be a soft-porn version of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. What [Monique Roffey] has actually produced is 480 pages of sub-Marie Claire overshare, a pointlessly explicit, infuriatingly naive and, at times, plain offputting slither through a series of — wilfully? maliciously? — unedited sexual slurpings."
The eight contenders are:
- Mary Beard on Rome by Robert Hughes (published in The Guardian).
- Geoff Dyer on The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (published in The New York Times).
- Camilla Long on With the Kisses of His Mouth by Monique Roffey (published in The Sunday Times).
- Lachlan Mackinnon on Clavics by Geoffrey Hill (published in The Independent).
- Adam Mars-Jones on By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham (published in The Observer).
- Leo Robson on Martin Amis: The Biography by Richard Bradford (published in New Statesman).
- Jenni Russell on Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim (published in The Sunday Times).
- David Sexton on The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy (published in London Evening Standard).
A four-member panel will determine the first recipient of the Hatchet Job Award, which will be announced on Feb. 7. The winner will receive a year's supply of potted shrimp from a fishmonger sponsoring the fledgling honour.
"We've not stopped reading ...but we are increasingly going elsewhere for literary recommendations," prize organizers said, citing the need to challenge the perception that critics are "inward-looking," "self-serving" and out-of-touch with the average book-lover.
"We need professional book reviewers. We need people who know what they're talking about, whose voices we recognize and trust, even though we might not always agree with them. With more books being published than ever, you could argue that the hunger for authoritative advice has never been greater."