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And the year's most scathing book reviews are ...

Critics on both sides of the Atlantic get rewarded for eloquently panning Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Naomi Wolf


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Prachi Gupta
January 9, 2013 5:13PM (UTC)

The U.K.-based literary website the Omnivore has issued the shortlist for its Hatchet Job of the Year awards, an honor bestowed upon book critics who pen the "angriest, funniest, most trenchant" reviews of the year. The awards serve to recognize "honesty, wit and good writing," condemning "mediocrity, sycophancy and lazy adjectives” among book reviewers. Below are excerpts from this year's nominees, whose biting pieces were inspired by some of the most prominent authors of 2012.

Craig Brown, in the Daily Mail, on "The Odd Couple," by Richard Bradford:

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Imagine that we had all trooped into "Skyfall" to find it a mish-mash of all the old James Bond movies, with a couple of freshly shot scenes, and the producers had just trusted we wouldn’t spot it.

This was how I felt when reading "The Odd Couple" by Richard Bradford. 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.

Ron Charles, in the Washington Post, on "Lionel Asbo," by Martin Amis:

The problem is really one of initiative, even effort. In “Super Sad True Love Story,” you could smell Gary Shteyngart sweat as he labored to keep his outrageous satire one step ahead of dismal current events. Here, Amis seems unwilling to exert more effort than it would take to change the channel from “Jersey Shore” to “Half Pint Brawlers.” 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. “You go numb,” Lionel tells his nephew. “Not happy. Not sad. Numb.” Halfway through, persistent readers will feel the same way.

Richard Evans, in the New Statesman, on "Hitler: A Short Biography," by A.N. Wilson:

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, in the London Evening Standard, on "Treasure Island" by Andrew Motion:

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.

Zoe Heller,  in the New York Review of Books, on "Joseph Anton," by Salman Rushdie:

A man living under threat of death for nine years is not to be blamed for occasionally characterizing his plight in grandiloquent terms. But one would hope that when recollecting his emotions in freedom and safety, he might bring some ironic detachment to bear on his own bombast. 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.

Camilla Long, in  the Sunday Times, on "Aftermath," by Rachel Cusk:

The strange bit is everything else. The book is crammed with mad, flowery metaphors and hifalutin creative-writing experiments. There are hectic passages on Greek tragedy and the Christian concept of family, as well as fragments of ghost stories, references to the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy, and heavy Freudian symbolism, including a long description of the removal of a molar, “a large tooth,” she writes portentously, “of great…personal significance”. The final chapter is an out-of-body experience — her situation seen through the eyes of her pill-popping Eastern European au pair. Oddly, I read the whole thing in a Bulgarian accent.

Allan Massie, in the Scotsman, on "The Divine Comedy," by Craig Raine:

The subject is however consistent, from the first to the last page. It is sex, and more particularly the sexual organs. The first page is actually dreadful: “After two minutes that felt like six minutes, Rysiek’s electric toothbrush – a present from an English friend – had its brief but unmistakable orgasm. Normally, he never cleaned his teeth after lunch, but today he was going to see his dentist. Rysiek Harlan. You will be hearing more about him.”

This is affected, mannered writing, and also rather silly. When a character is introduced and named in the first paragraph of a novel, you expect – don’t you? – that “you will be hearing more about him”. So, why tell us? Not to mention the fact that toothbrushes, whether electric or not, don’t have orgasms. If this is an example of “poetic licence”, you can keep it.

Suzanne Moore, in the Guardian, on "Vagina," by Naomi Wolf:

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.

Publishing Perspectives reports that the winner, announced on Feb. 12, will get a "year’s supply of potted shrimp from the award’s sponsor, the Fish Society."

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h/t Publishing Perspectives


Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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