A critic who dismissed a divorce memoir as a stew of “vague literary blah” has won a prize celebrating the year’s most lacerating book reviews.
Camilla Long’s review of Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation for the Sunday Times was named winner of the Hatchet Job of the Year Award.
Long acknowledged finding the book – in which Cusk, an award-winning novelist, recounts the breakdown of her marriage – full of narrative gaps and “quite simply, bizarre”.
She described Cusk as a “peerless narcissist” and the book as “acres of poetic whimsy and vague literary blah, a needy, neurotic mandolin solo of reflections on child sacrifice and asides about drains”.
Cusk’s book was published last year to generally negative reviews, although The Daily Telegraph found it “full of beauty” and The Independent praised Cusk’s “honesty, courage, and the ability to depict her experiences in exquisitely crafted language”.
Long’s prize consists of a golden hatchet and a year’s supply of potted shrimp from the award’s sponsor, a fishmonger.
The Hatchet Job award was established by the literary website The Omnivore to honour “the angriest, funniest, most trenchant” review published in a newspaper or magazine.
Only in its second year, it has attracted wide attention in Britain, a country that loves a Waspish turn of phrase.
While it has received some flak for rewarding mean-spiritedness, organiser Fleur Macdonald said the prize was intended “to encourage fearless and honest reviewing”.
And organisers insist they only pick on established writers strong enough to take it.
This year’s finalists included attacks on two of Britain’s most eminent novelists, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie.
In the Washington Post, Ron Charles slammed Amis’s satirical saga Lionel Asbo as a “ham-fisted novel” full of “blanched stereotypes”.
Zoe Heller’s critique of Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton for the New York Review of Books lambasted his “magisterial amour propre” and concluded: “The world is as large and as wide as it ever was; it’s just Rushdie who got small.” – Sapa-AP