By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - A review belitting award-winning British novelist Rachel Cusk's memoir of her bitter divorce as "poetic whimsy and vague literary blah" has won an annual prize for most competently trashing a literary work.
The "Hatchet Job of the Year", run by British literary criticism website The Omnivore, was set up to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism and is awarded to the "angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review".
Literary heavyweights are as game for a public mauling as lesser known writers with reviews of works by novelists Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie and former poet laureate Andrew Motion among the shortlist for the 2013 award.
But a panel of three journalists and writers chose Sunday Times journalist Camilla Long over seven others as the winner for the second annual award for her review of "Aftermath".
Long, who wins a year's supply of potted shrimp, described the book as bizarre and "a needy, neurotic mandolin solo of reflections on child sacrifice and asides about drains".
"I thought what was wonderful about Camilla's review 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," said judge Lynn Barber, a Sunday Times journalist, in a statement.
"So a hatchet job isn't necessarily a turnoff."
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.
Heller took Rushdie to task for what she called his "magisterial amour propre."
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."
Suzanne Moore of The Guardian slated Naomi Wolf's biography "Vagina," saying much of her work is "utter drivel" while Richard Evans in the New Statesman wrote that A.N. Wilson's judgments in "Hitler: A Short Biography" were "breathtaking in their banality."
But the authors savaged by reviewers may yet have their revenge. Long is currently at work on her first book.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith)