Will Salman Rushdie greet this stinging review with 'lordly nonchalance'?

Author-critic Zoe Heller's excoriating verdict on the literary titan's book expected to start a fight

He has survived a fatwa and is an undisputed titan of modern literature.

But Sir Salman Rushdie appears to have made a new foe in the shape of fellow British writer Zoe Heller – whose scathing review of his memoirs has been described as the most devastating hatchet job of 2012.

Heller's piece, published in The New York Review of Books, condemned the "shuddering hauteur" of Rushdie's efforts, adding that "an unembarrassed sense of what he is owed as an embattled, literary immortal-in-waiting pervades his book".

Joseph Anton: A Memoir is an autobiography depicting Rushdie's struggle in the aftermath of The Satanic Verses, which forced him into hiding for nearly a decade. The work attempts to shed light on the experience and bury the ghosts of the past.

But it found little favour with Heller who, like Rushdie, left Britain for New York nearly a decade ago. In a stinging 2,600-word essay, she wrote: "One would hope that when recollecting his emotions in freedom and safety, he might bring some ironic detachment to bear on his own bombast. Hindsight, alas, has had no sobering effect on Rushdie's magisterial amour propre."

Born in north London, Heller started her career at The Independent on Sunday, later moving to New York. Her second novel, Notes on a Scandal, was nominated for the 2003 Booker Prize and made into a film starring Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. Some of her sharpest criticism is saved for Rushdie's assessment of his marriages, which she deems "egregiously uncharitable". "Rushdie has a habit of excusing his own fairly frequent infidelities and betrayals with reference to the imperative nature of his own desires," she wrote.

Joseph Anton is the pseudonym Rushdie chose while in hiding, borrowing the names from his fellow authors Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. But it is another point of contention for Heller, who describes herself as "struck by the lordly nonchalance with which Rushdie places himself alongside Lawrence, Joyce, and Nabokov in the ranks of literary merit".

Describing the book as written in a "de Gaulle-like third person" she adds: "Throughout this memoir Rushdie claims kinship with any number of great literary men – men who, like him, suffered for their genius, but whose fame was destined to outlast that of their oppressors."

But her greatest criticism is saved for the last lines: "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."

Rushdie did not offer a response when The Independent contacted him on Saturday. But he is unlikely to be silenced for long. His spat with fellow British author John Le Carré in 1997 led to a lengthy exchange of letters and a final assessment in which Rushdie branded the spy novelist "an illiterate, pompous ass".

Meanwhile, America's patience with British authors seems to be wearing thin. The New York Times recently criticised Rushdie's "relentless public presence" which it said "occurs precisely at a moment when many of New York's most successful writers appear to lead lives of domestic tranquillity in Brooklyn".

The gossip website Gawker yesterday acclaimed Heller's review as the best hatchet job of the year, with writer Mallory Ortberg adding: "It is exciting to watch important British people insult each other. They are, generally speaking, much better at it than Americans, partly because reading is a blood sport there, but also because they've had centuries of practice."

Rushdie can nevertheless find some consolation from Heller. In a piece last year for aspiring writers, she wrote: "Having your work occasionally rejected – or poorly reviewed – is not a bad thing for a writer. Naturally, it's horrid at the time, but it does toughen you up. It also forces you to decide whether you're in the game for the long haul or not."

War of words: Literary spats

VS Naipaul and Paul Theroux

Naipaul sold a signed copy of a book given to him by Theroux for $1,500. Theroux branded Naipaul a racist, egoist and mercenary. They finally buried the hatchet in 2011.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa

When Peruvian Vargas Llosa punched the Colombian Marquez in 1976 – allegedly over a woman – it sparked a simmering feud with the pair not speaking for 30 years.

Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev

Tolstoy described Turgenev as "a bore", and their animosity heated up to the point that Tolstoy challenged his elder to a duel. Turgenev later made a deathbed plea for him to return to writing.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers