Rushdie, Amis targeted by critical hatchets

The Hatchet Job of the Year Award celebrates book reviewers' ruthlessness.

LONDON — Their status as literary heavyweights could not save them from the savage sarcasm of the critics.

Novelists Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie and former poet laureate Andrew Motion were all up for critical mauling of the year in a shortlist published Tuesday.

The Hatchet Job of the Year Award, run by British literary criticism website The Omnivore, was set up to celebrate serious book reviewing, which organizers say is a dying art in the age of Amazon, blogs and Twitter.

Now in its second year, it is awarded to the "angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review" of the past 12 months, and this year's winner will be chosen from eight nominees.

Among those with the harshest verdicts over the last year were Ron Charles of the Washington Post for his review of Amis's "Lionel Asbo," and Zoe Heller for her critique of Rushdie's memoir "Joseph Anton" in the New York Review of Books.

"Critics' quills were noticeably sharper in 2012," said Anna Baddeley, The Omnivore editor. "But there is still a long way to go. Book reviews are, in the main, too fawning and dull."

While the reviews do not reflect overall reaction to the works in question, Charles said "Lionel Asbo" served up "blanched stereotypes on the silver platter of his [Amis's] prose as though it contained enough spice to entertain or even shock."

"Does any other truly great writer make us wonder whether his brilliant parts are worth the wearisome whole?" wrote Charles, the first U.S. critic to be included.

Heller took Rushdie to task for what she called his "magisterial amour-propre [self-love]."

"Some readers may find, by the end of 'Joseph Anton,' that the world feels rather smaller and grimmer than before. But they should not be unduly alarmed. The world is as large and as wide as it ever was; it's just Rushdie who got small."

Motion, poet laureate until 2009, fell foul of the London Evening Standard's Claire Harman for his "Silver: A Return to Treasure Island," in which she described the characters "as wooden as absent Silver's leg."

In the Mail on Sunday, Craig Brown accused Richard Bradford of plagiarizing himself in "The Odd Couple," while Allan Massie damned Craig Raine with faint praise in the Scotsman, writing of "The Divine Comedy" that "Raine can spell. That much must be admitted."

Following is a list of nominees for the Hatchet Job of the Year Award, which will be announced Feb. 12. The winner will receive a year's supply of potted shrimp.

- Craig Brown on "The Odd Couple" by Richard Bradford, Mail on Sunday

- Ron Charles on "Lionel Asbo" by Martin Amis, Washington Post

- Richard Evans on "Hitler: A Short Biography" by A.N. Wilson, New Statesman

- Claire Harman on "Silver: A Return to Treasure Island" by Andrew Motion, London Evening Standard

- Zoe Heller on "Joseph Anton" by Salman Rushdie, New York Review of Books

- Camilla Long on "Aftermath" by Rachel Cusk, Sunday Times

- Allan Massie on "The Divine Comedy" by Craig Raine, Scotsman

- Suzanne Moore on "Vagina" by Naomi Wolf, Guardian

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