Newly launched UK literary prize honors art of the hatchet job

January 11, 2012, Wednesday/ 17:22:00

A new literary prize aims to reward book reviews with edge. The Hatchet Job of the Year Award honors “the angriest, funniest, most trenchant” review published in a newspaper or magazine in 2011.

Eight finalists for the prize were announced on Tuesday. They include classicist Mary Beard’s dismissal of Robert Hughes’ “Rome” -- “little short of a disgrace” -- and Leo Robson’s verdict on Rachel Bradford’s “Martin Amis: The Biography.” He said it was “full of spectacularly bad writing -- about spectacularly good writing.” The shortlist also includes Geoff Dyer’s underwhelmed reaction to Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize-winning “The Sense of an Ending.” “It isn’t terrible,” Dyer wrote. “It is just so ... average.”

The prize, set up by the arts review aggregating website The Omnivore, will be awarded Feb. 7. The winner will be chosen by a jury including biographer D.J. Taylor and journalists Suzi Feay, Rachel Johnson and Sam Leith.

Omnivore co-editor Fleur Macdonald said the award was not intended to celebrate “gratuitously vicious reviews.” “We are celebrating reviews that are well written, that have a point, that are insightful and also are entertaining,” she said. “There are too many reviews that are a bit bland.”

The winner will receive a year’s supply of potted shrimp, an English seafood dish, from the award’s sponsor, a fishmonger. Macdonald said both the nominated reviewers and the victims of their hatchet jobs had been invited to the prize ceremony. “Hopefully they will be able to take it in good spirits,” she said.

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