Introducing the Hatchet Job of the Year Award
Did Geoff Dyer's take on Julian Barnes' Booker Prize-winning "The Sense of an Ending" -- "excellent in its averageness!" -- cut it down to size? If so, was it the sharpest-tongued book review of the year?
That's what will be decided when the entirely subjective, only slightly mean-spirited Hatchet Job of the Year Award is announced on Feb. 7. This is the first year of the award, designed to celebrate the acid in a literary community that's become somewhat complacent, according to its organizers, the editors of the review aggregating website The Omnivore.
"Hatchet Job of the Year is a crusade against dullness, deference and lazy thinking," they write in their sassy manifesto. "It rewards critics who have the courage to overturn received opinion, and who do so with style."
Their attention is turned primarily to British book reviews. "The prize was supposed to be restricted to reviews that had appeared in British publications this year," The Omnivore editor Anna Baddeley wrote in an email to Jacket Copy. "However, we bent our own rules a little bit to allow the Geoff Dyer piece in."
The Hatchet Job of the Year Award will be judged by four British writers and editors. There are eight reviews -- all of which can be read at the award's website -- in the running:
Mary Beard on "Rome" by Robert Hughes, Guardian;
Geoff Dyer on "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes, New York Times;
Camilla Long on "With the Kisses of His Mouth" by Monique Roffey, Sunday Times;
Lachlan Mackinnon on "Clavics" by Geoffrey Hill, Independent;
Adam Mars-Jones on "By Nightfall" by Michael Cunningham, Observer;
Leo Robson on "Martin Amis: The Biography" by Richard Bradford, New Statesman;
Jenni Russell on "Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital" by Catherine Hakim, Sunday Times;
David Sexton on "The Bees" by Carol Ann Duffy, London Evening Standard;
Next year, the Hatchet Job of the Year Award may be open to American writers. Or maybe there should be an American division. Although Electric Literature's The Outlet has been lauding great book reviews with its monthly Critical Hit Awards, I can't think of any American venue that has a celebration of excellent hatchet jobs.
The first Hatchet Job of the Year Award will be given at the Coach & Horses in Soho in London. What's the prize? A year's supply of potted shrimp.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Left photo: Geoff Dyer. Credit: Graywolf Press
Right photo: Julian Barnes. Credit: Ellen Warner / Knopf