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The Omnivore's dilemma
January 17, 2012 4:22 PM   Subscribe

The Hatchet Job of the Year Award, sponsored by The Omnivore, is looking for 'the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the last twelve months'. The shortlist includes Geoff Dyer on Julian Barnes ('excellent in its averageness'), Lachlan Mackinnon on Geoffrey Hill ('he is wasting his time and trying to waste ours') and Jenni Russell on Catherine Hakim ('if you should pass it in a bookshop, pick up a copy and drop it somewhere where nobody's likely to take an interest in it'). Mary Beard, another of the shortlisted candidates, insists that 'it's not actually a prize for skewering .. it's for honest as well as entertaining book reviewing, that isn't afraid to go beyond deference, to call a spade a spade'.

The full shortlist:

Mary Beard on Rome by Robert Hughes. (First published in the Guardian, 29 June 2011.)
Geoff Dyer on The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. (First published in the New York Times, 16 Dec 2011.)
Camilla Long on With the Kisses of His Mouth by Monique Roffey. (First published in the Sunday Times, 26 June 2011.)
Lachlan Mackinnon on Clavics by Geoffrey Hill. (First published in the Independent, 3 June 2011.)
Adam Mars-Jones on By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham. (First published in the Observer, 23 Jan 2011.)
Leo Robson on Martin Amis: The Biography by Richard Bradford. (First published in the New Statesman, 14 Nov 2011.)
Jenni Russell on Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim. (First published in the Sunday Times, 21 Aug 2011.)
David Sexton on The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy. (First published in the London Evening Standard, 22 Sept 2011.)
posted by verstegan (21 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Love these, thanks!
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:34 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pankaj Mishra reviews 'Civilisation' by Niall Ferguson. An absolute masterpiece in my opinion, the review is learned, thorough, devastating and vicious.
posted by LarryC at 4:35 PM on January 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hakim thinks none of us has noticed: “Sexuality is the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore, too large an issue to address. It seems to be invisible to psychotherapists, social scientists and journalists alike.” Yes, that’s just what I think when I look around me. Sex. The invisible force in society that nobody wants to mention.

Heh. Ouch.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:38 PM on January 17, 2012


Why are the British so good at withering criticism?
posted by Bromius at 4:38 PM on January 17, 2012


If there's nothing from Dale Peck on there, is it really worth reading?
posted by gingerbeer at 4:50 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


to call a spade a spade

yup that is a shovel... (AND I'M NOT AFRAID TO CALL IT THAT!!!!)
posted by edgeways at 4:50 PM on January 17, 2012


It looks like a book. It has hard covers, 372 pages, chapter headings, dozens of sources and footnotes, a fat price ticket and a press release from its publishers. But looks are deceptive.

Yeah, these are pretty fun.
posted by mstokes650 at 4:51 PM on January 17, 2012


Great links, thanks. (My favorite review predating the competition is Martha Nussbaum's take on Harvey Mansfield's Manliness: "On the logical principle that from a contradiction everything and anything follows, I conclude that Manliness says it all. Try that out on the back jacket.")
posted by en forme de poire at 4:57 PM on January 17, 2012


You like hatchet jobs? Any time you fancy seeing my review of "Infinite Jest", just let me know.
posted by Decani at 5:14 PM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Amateur-hour legacy-press drawing-room niceties at best.

Want to see what happens when someone doesn't like a book?

Check out Bod's critique of the Dragonlance oeuvre.

Let's see if I can figure out how to make a working link this time...
posted by sourcequench at 5:29 PM on January 17, 2012


You like hatchet jobs? Any time you fancy seeing my review of "Infinite Jest", just let me know.

Yeah, but you liked Bowie & Jagger's "Dancing In The Street".
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:44 PM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would love to see a devastating review of IJ. I've heard nothing but good about it but I read about 2 chapters before feeling too physically ill to continue (not to mention weak in the arms from carrying it around).
posted by DU at 5:59 PM on January 17, 2012


@sourcequench

that actually wasnt really that good
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:03 PM on January 17, 2012


> that actually wasnt really that good

I'm desperately sorry that my link to a fifteeen year old Usenet article failed to meet your critical standards. It amused me, and I genuinely thought that it might do likewise to other subscribers. Should we ever meet in person, you have my assurance that I stand prepared to redress this grievance by buying you a pint of the local.

Else, pistols at dawn. Because, that was really that good.
posted by sourcequench at 6:16 PM on January 17, 2012


I have to say that the Honey Money and the Kisses of His Mouth reviews were the most scathing though the Robson was not bad either.
posted by jadepearl at 7:21 PM on January 17, 2012



You like hatchet jobs? Any time you fancy seeing my review of "Infinite Jest", just let me know.

Sure, let's see it.
posted by sweetkid at 8:59 PM on January 17, 2012


Infinite Jest: a review by the quidnunc kid

I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and ...
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:11 AM on January 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


The one I have issue with is Mackinnon's on Geoffrey Hill. I'm significantly less fond of Hill's later work, to the extent that I haven't, and probably won't, read Clavics, so I'm only going on what's in the review, but pretty much everything he quotes and examines, he gets fairly willfully wrong. To snark that Hill's poetry doesn't give up it's meaning easily is to lament that your glass of water is wet. To chide "The 'swarm-/ Ing mass' (it's careless to have to break a word for rhyme, to so little effect, so early in proceedings)" is to be deaf to the possibility that there might be poetical reasons for tumbling the phrase "swarming mass" over two lines etc etc.

I like Mary Beard's on Robert Hughes, despite the fact I like Hughes as a critic and don't have much time for Beard, in part because it backs up its attack, whereas some of the others are either shooting fish in a barrel (I'd be more impressed if anyone found a good review of the Amis biography) or strong restatements of "this rubbed me up the wrong way". I also like Dyer's because, although I disagree with it somewhat, it's a welcome articulation of that book's weaknesses and a correction to its general lauding.

For a real big take down although try Philip Hensher on James Thackara:

Startlingly badly written, with no apparent understanding of what drives people or how people relate or talk to each other, it is a book of gigantic, hopeless awfulness. You read it to a constant, internal muttering of "Oh -God - Thackara - please, don't - no - oh, God, just listen to this rubbish"
posted by Hartster at 9:03 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Mary Beard review seems tame compared to the rest. I would thought there was plenty of space for pointing out the irony of someone who is themselves a tourist complaining about mass tourism in Rome (unless this is a different Robert Hughes we are talking about). But maybe you are not a tourist if your are also a member of the upper-middle class?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:27 AM on January 18, 2012


These are great, plus I finally know of a review-aggregation site for books, which I've been missing ever since Metacritic stopped covering books way back when.
posted by whir at 12:04 PM on January 18, 2012


Hartser, that's wonderful: "Reviewing someone's first novel, it is customary to be polite about it, to find things to praise in it. So let me say straight away that James Thackara's The Book Of Kings is printed on very nice paper, and the typeface is clear and readable". Ouch!
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:40 PM on January 18, 2012


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