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Fiercest Book Critic of 2012? Camilla Long Had The Year’s Sharpest Hatchet

By Dennis Abrams

Last month, we took a look at the eight finalists vying for the honor of having written the best worst review of 2012. And we now have a winner.

As The Guardian put it, “Camilla Long’s comprehensive shredding of Rachel Cusk’s memoir of her divorce, Aftermath has won her the Hatchet Job of the Year award.”

The paper points out that while Cusk took 160 pages to detail the end of her marriage and how her life fell apart “like a jigsaw dismantled into a heap of broken-edged pieces.” Long’s review in the Sunday Times needed just over 1,000 words to “pull Cusk’s memoir to bits,” while dismissing the novelist as “a brittle little dominatrix and peerless narcissist who exploits her husband and her marriage with relish,” who “describes her grief in expert, whinnying detail.”

Judges Lynn Barber, John Walsh and Francis Wheen selected Long’s review just ahead of Zoe Heller’s brutal review of Salman Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton, (“an unembarrassed sense of what he is owed as an embattled literary immortal-in-waiting pervades his book,” and Craig Brown’s thorough rejection of Richard Bradford’s The Odd Couple as “a triumph of ‘cut and paste.’”

The Hatchet Job of the Year prize was established by the Omnivore website to “raise the profile of professional book critics and to promote integrity and wit in journalism.” Long, a journalist for the Sunday Times gets the honor of taking home the highly coveted golden hatchet along with a year’s supply of potted shrimp.

“I thought what was wonderful about Camille’s review,” Barber is quoted as saying, “was that it totally hatcheted the book but in such an intriguing way that I then thought I must read Aftermath — and did, and loved it because it was just as weird as Camilla said.  So a hatchet job isn’t necessarily a turnoff.”

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 16, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    A hatchet job is rarely a turnoff if it’s expertly and amusingly done, drawing in the reader who then becomes curious to see whether the book is really as bad as the critic says. I should know, it has happened to me (but then it seems I write stuff that has a devisive effect on my audience…)

    But I just wanted to add that I think this sort of prize is important and hopefully contributes in raising the level of literary critique. It’s something Amazon should consider: too many of the customer reviews on Amazon are desperately poor quality, misguided, unfounded and clearly the work of people who have no idea how to critique a book. They simply express strong likes and dislikes without justification. If the main character is not a likeable chap and has flaws, it doesn’t matter whether the book is well written and well structured, it gets a poor review!

    The moral of the story: to get good reviews, we should all write books about Superman! In other words, delegating to the average customer the task of book reviews is not particularly helpful to guide book discovery. Perhaps Amazon should consider a different system, a series of questions with multiple-choice answers, on the model used in IQ tests, giving people a chance to rate a book on each of its major dimensions: plot, character development, pace, setting etc Well, it’s just an idea to help improve customer reviews and enable people who are not writers to do them quickly and without having to go to the trouble of writing out full sentences and providing evidence of their judgment…

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