Hatchet Job of the Year

The Literary Saloon points to the Hatchet Job of the Year award, which goes to a review of an autobiographical work by Rachel Cusk – and which, just like last year, seems to me to have gone to the wrong contender.

I remember once reading something of Rachel Cusk (it was a short story), and it seemed as dull and uninteresting as the rest of modern literature – no, even worse – and I thought to myself then that I’d never read anything by her again. But, to be honest, this “hatchet job” makes me want to read the book; because it sounds like she has become unhinged – and that is not necessarily a bad thing for a writer.

Like last year, I would have preferred the review of the history book to have won (Richard Evans on A.N. Wilson’s Hitler biography), perhaps because – unlike fiction or autobiography – history books can be held up against some kind of objective fact; and I find this much more satisfying as a basis for ridicule. Not merely that, of course, but Wilson is a fiction writer straying onto another man’s turf: – as Evans ends his review:

the repellent arrogance of a man who thinks that because he’s a celebrated novelist, he can write a book about Hitler that people should read, even though he’s put very little work into writing it and even less thought.

Whereas Cusk can’t, in truth, be held to be wrong about the “brittle little dominatrix and peerless narcissist” that she portrays herself to be.

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4 thoughts on “Hatchet Job of the Year

  1. Yes, it’s amusing stuff all right, but I’ve always liked the idea of doing a sort of Suetonius version of some modern historical lives – you know, just accepting gossip and received opinion, rather than doing any research. The Craig Brown one is very good too, but in essence just a condemnation of a publisher’s greed and idleness.

  2. I thought the Evans piece should have won out as well. In the end, the effort to dissect and deprecate Cusk’s book is probably wasted, as if it is even a fraction of the horror Long describes then it is clearly self-evidently awful and will be binned by any sane reader who chances to expose themselves to it.

  3. But, as the chairman/woman of the prize committee said, the review made him/her want to read the novel – the antithesis of a hatchet job, as far as I’m concerned.

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