You know what you can do with your Hatchet Job of The Year…

Maybe it’s because I’m a creator not a critic that I detest The Hatchet Job of The Year. That’s the award for the most scathing book review of the year, the short list for which was announced today. Apparently it’s designed to promote wit and integrity in literary journalism. Strange then that I found the extracts quoted from the short-listed reviews to be strangely witless. No obvious signs of integrity either. But maybe that’s just me. See what you think.

The tone of it annoys me and, I have to say, I just don’t see the point. One of the books savaged is Anne Widdicombe’s autobiography. Talk about easy targets. And why is that literary journalism? The subject of the review is hardly literature.

To be honest, the whole enterprise winds me up. Even the prize of a year’s supply of potted shrimp strikes me as self-consciously arch. By all means have an award for literary journalism – for critics who bring real insight and skill to their reviews. Who manage to reveal interesting things – including flaws – about books that are worth reading. Not snarky hatchet jobs of commercial celebrity autobiographies (as two of the books are), books the reviewer obviously doesn’t like.

When the literary pages in newspapers are shrinking why devote them to contemptuous reviews of commercial books? And why give an award for it.

But then again, it’s easy to criticise, isn’t it?

4 thoughts on “You know what you can do with your Hatchet Job of The Year…”

  1. I think you’re right, Roger. Clive James vs Dan Brown? Whoever vs Anne Widdicombe? The only one that felt like a fair fight was AA Gill vs Morrissey. (I didn’t read any further than these three. There’s a point beyond which schadenfreude, even with the best will in the world, just doesn’t go…)

  2. You put it better than me Charles. I found them unengaging too. Had to work hard to read them – the reviews, not the books.

  3. I agree with you about this, Roger, and you’re right that this is about as dull a selection as I’ve ever seen for this award. Maybe it’s a dying trend (we can hope). The best hatchet job I’ve read, which I think was on last year’s shortlist, was Lionel Shriver on an American memoir, but it probably shouldn’t have qualified: ‘hatchet’ has a suggestion of malice or unfairness but her icy analysis of quoted text backed up everything she said. It was great piece of writing, never mind that the original clearly wasn’t.

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