Sunday 28 August 2016

Kim Bielenberg: Books that should be thrown with great force – and the Hatchet Jobs of the Year

Published 09/01/2013 | 12:30

IT is the prize that critics might covet, but the objects of their derision will hope to avoid.

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Nominations are in for the Hatchet Job of the Year Award.

The prize will reward the most scathing book reviews of 2012 .

It offers recognition to those who might emulate the American critic Dorothy Parker, who famously said of a book by Benito Mussolini: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly; it should be thrown with great force."

Among the nominees for the Hatchet Job of Year Award is Zoe Heller, the novelist who put the boot into Salman Rushdie when she reviewed his memoir Joseph Anton in the New York Review of Books.

She condemns "the lordly nonchalance with which Rushdie places himself alongside Lawrence, Joyce and Nabokov in the ranks of literary merit".

And she concludes: "The world is as large and as wide as it ever was; it's just Rushdie who got small."

Another literary grandee, Martin Amis, is a target of one of the nominees, Ron Charles of the Washington Post.

Charles said Amis served “stereotypes on a silver platter”, before adding that the work “has the grating tone of an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies sketched on the back of an envelope”.

Reviewer Craig Brown is nominated after describing The Odd Couple, a book about writers Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin by Richard Bradford, as “a triumph of cut and paste”.

Brown said it was “such a triumph that by now Bradford must be able to press the Command button and C for Copy simultaneously in his sleep”.

While good reviews are quickly forgotten, bad notices live long in the memory. They can lead to long drawn-out literary feuds, and very occasionally writers even come to blows over them.

Gore Vidal was punched by Norman Mailer after he gave him a bad review, leading Vidal to remark, “As usual words failed him.”

Even literary classics have not escaped maulings by other eminent novelists. Virginia Woolf gave James Joyce a pasting for Ulysses:

"Never have I read such tosh. As for the first two chapters, we will let them pass, but the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth - merely the scratchings of pimples on the body of the bootboy at Claridges.”

And poor old Jane Austen was the chosen target of Mark Twain:

"Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin bone."

Steady on there, Mark.

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