Lifestyle & Belief

A new literary prize for critical nastiness


Novelist Julian Barnes holds his Man Booker Prize trophy after winning the award last October. Hatchet Job of the Year nominee Geoff Dyer called Barnes' prize-winning novel "excellent in its averageness."


Samir Hussein

The Hatchet Job of the Year is the brainchild of The Omnivore, a website that aggregates and comments on reviews of books, films and plays. The site was set up by Anna Baddeley, a recent university graduate, who churns out the occasional review for the right-wing Spectator Magazine.

The purpose of the award is to celebrate "artful demolitions" and reward critics "who have the courage to overturn received opinion, and who do so with style," according to Baddeley's manifesto.

It is, inevitably, a bit of a publicity stunt to call attention to the shrinking amount of space available for book reviews in newspapers and magazines - a very real problem as those of us who write books can attest (although I've never had a bad review - true.  I haven't had many reviews, but no bad'uns).

Anyway, drum roll please, the nominees are:

·      Mary Beard on Rome by Robert Hughes, Guardian
·      Geoff Dyer on The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, New York Times
·      Camilla Long on With the Kisses of His Mouth by Monique Roffey, Sunday Times
·      Lachlan Mackinnon on Clavics by Geoffrey Hill, Independent
·      Adam Mars-Jones on By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham, Observer
·      Leo Robson on Martin Amis: The Biography by Richard Bradford, New Statesman
·      Jenni Russell on Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim, Sunday Times
·      David Sexton on The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy, London Evening Standard

Omnivore has extracts from each nominated review here. My guess is the two front runners for the award have to be Geoff Dyer for this New York Times review of Julian Barnes Man Booker prize winning "The Sense of an Ending:"

" ... any extreme expression of opinion about The Sense of an Ending feels inappropriate. It isn’t terrible, it is just so . . . average. It is averagely compelling (I finished it), involves an average amount of concentration and, if such a thing makes sense, is averagely well written: excellent in its averageness!”

Or Jenni Russell's review of "Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital" by Catherine Hakim in The Sunday Times:

“Selling the sex you don’t personally want to have as the route to personal development, confidence and happiness? Driving merciless bargains with men for every erotic encounter? If this is what counts as intellectual discovery at the London School of Economics, or Allen Lane, who publish Hakim, I fear for the future both of universities and of serious books.”

The winner will be announced in February.