February 8, 2012

Best hatchet job of the year chosen


“His ‘killingly fair-minded and viciously funny” review of the Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Cunningham‘s latest book, By Nightfall, has won novelist and critic Adam Mars-Jones the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year award, says a report in the Guardian.

The Hatchet Job of the Year Award was initiated by the website, The Omnivore, to honor, “the author of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months. It aims to raise the profile of professional critics and to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism.” The award is judged by a panel of journalists who bravely give their names — Sam Leith, Suzi Feay, Rachel Johnson and D.J. Taylor.

According to the Guardian:

Mars-Jones demolished the US writer’s story of a middle-aged gallery owner attracted to his young brother-in-law in a 1,000-word review in the Observer last January. Beginning by ridiculing Cunningham’s numerous bookish allusions — “nothing makes a novel seem more vulnerable, more naked, than an armour-plating of literary references. If you’re constantly referring to landmarks, it doesn’t make you look as if you’re striding confidently forward” — Mars-Jones then mocks his artistic pretensions, saying “the book’s pages are filled ‘with thoughts about art, or (more ominously) Thoughts about Art”.

Mar-Jones beat out a distinguished line-up of hatchet-wielders. According to the Guardian, in the running were, “Geoff Dyer‘s rejection of Julian Barnes‘s Booker winner The Sense of an Ending (‘It isn’t terrible, it is just so … average’) to Mary Beard‘s demolition of Robert Hughes‘s Rome in the Guardian, which sees the classicist advise readers to skip the first 200 pages, calling the first half of the book ‘little short of a disgrace’.”

One of the judges, Sam Leith, told the Guardian that Mars-Jones’s review “had everything a reader could hope for” in a hostile write-up. “The best hatchets, in criticism, are wielded with precision as much as they are with force… at once erudite, attentive, killingly fair-minded and viciously funny.” Mar-Jones was awarded a golden hatchet and a year’s supply of potted shrimp on Tuesday, at an awards ceremony at The Coach and Horses pub in Soho.


Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.