Book critics vie for Hatchet Job of the Year award

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The Independent Online

They might be much-lauded grandees of the literary world, but Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Naomi Wolf were all gleefully cut down to size by acid-tongued reviewers last year. The critics responsible are now vying for their own honour: that of Hatchet Job of the Year.

The shortlist for this year's prize was revealed yesterday, with some of the most scathing book reviews of 2012 up for the coveted golden hatchet – and a jar of potted shrimp.

Among them was Ron Charles who took aim at Martin Amis in The Washington Post for his "ham fisted" novel Lionel Asbo. The American writer accused Amis of "serving up blanched stereotypes on a silver platter" adding the work "has the grating tone of an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies sketched on the back of an envelope".

Zoe Heller is in the running for her take on Salman Rushdie's memoir Joseph Anton. She hauled Rushdie over the coals saying readers should not worry if the book made the world smaller and grimmer. "The world is as large and as wide as it ever was; it's just Rushdie who got small."

Vagina: A New Biography came in for sustained criticism upon its publication, but Suzanne Moore perhaps landed the finest blows on author Naomi Wolf. "So much of Wolf's work," Moore said, "is utter drivel".

The Omnivore, a website that rounds up reviews, set up the prize last year for the "writer of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past 12 months".

Adam Mars-Jones won the inaugural award for his scathing review of Pulitzer Prize-winning Michael Cunningham's novel By Nightfall.

Fleur MacDonald, editor of The Omnivore, said there had been a huge response to the first award. "While much was positive, a few people were po-faced and argued there should be a prize for positive criticism. But where would the fun be in that?"

The eight-strong shortlist also includes Craig Brown's review of Richard Bradford's The Odd Couple, which he called a "triumph of cut and paste" while Richard Evans called AN Wilson's Hitler: A Short Biography a "travesty". Other nominees are Claire Harman on Andrew Motion's Treasure Island ("Yo ho ho hum"), Camilla Long on Aftermath by Rachel Cusk ("acres of poetic whimsy and vague literary blah") and Allan Massie on Craig Raine's The Divine Comedy ("The first page is actually dreadful").