In a welcome sign that snark survives this side of the Herring Pond, UK book-lovers’ site The Omnivore has announced its latest Hatchet Job of the Year Award shortlist “for the writer of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months.” And there are some wonderfully brutal, unsympathetic, attacks in line for the final award, which will be presented in early February, with the grand prize of “a year’s supply of potted shrimp.”

The Omnivore’s own manifesto for the Awards makes for some very interesting reading – not least for what it defends. “Newspaper book pages are on borrowed time. Readership is dwindling, review space is shrinking, reviewers are paid half what they were twenty years ago. The professional critic has yet to draw his last breath, but there’s no mistaking the death rattle,” it declares. “The chief cause of this sorry situation is, of course, the decline in newspaper readership. But plummeting circulation just makes it even more urgent for literary pages to prove they’re still relevant.” And also, as expected, “Hatchet Job of the Year is a crusade against dullness, deference and lazy thinking.”

Frederich Raphael, interestingly, both gives and gets in the Awards. Dismissed by Craig Brown in the Mail on Sunday as a writer “who peaked in the Seventies” and who celebrates ” a roll-call that begins with R for Raphael and ends, a little abruptly, with R for Raphael,” he himself disses beautifully in the Times Literary Supplement on John le Carré for his “mixed clichés, idiosyncratic phrases … and witless dialogue.”

My personal favorite is A.A. Gill in the Sunday Times on Morrissey’s autobiography: “laughably overwrought and overwritten, a litany of retrospective hurt and score-settling that reads like a cross between Madonna and Catherine Cookson … sometimes risible but mostly dull … There are many pop autobiographies that shouldn’t be written. Some to protect the unwary reader, and some to protect the author. In Morrissey’s case, he has managed both.” There’s some payback for all the whiny maudlin self-pitying songs he made me sit through.

The snark is alive and well and living in Soho, it seems. And all these hatchet jobs are guaranteed to be more entertaining and stimulating than the books they cover. Harsh.


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