Adam Mars-Jones wins Hatchet Job of the Year Award 2011
A ‘viciously funny’ review by Adam Mars-Jones has won The Omnivore’s inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year Award, it has been announced this evening (Tuesday 7 February).
Mars-Jones, a veteran wielder of the literary hatchet, took the prize for his review of By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham, published in the Observer in January 2011. In an exclusive awards ceremony at The Coach and Horses pub in Soho, he was presented with a golden hatchet and won a year’s supply of potted shrimp, courtesy of The Fish Society.
There was also a special mention for Leo Robson’s New Statesman review of Martin Amis: The Biography by Richard Bradford.
The panel of judges included Sam Leith, Suzi Feay, Rachel Johnson and D.J. Taylor. Sam Leith explained: ‘The best hatchets, in criticism, are wielded with precision as much as they are with force. Adam Mars-Jones’s review of Michael Cunningham had everything a reader could hope for in a hostile review. It was at once erudite, attentive, killingly fair-minded and viciously funny.
‘Every one of his zingers – “like tin-cans tied to a tricycle”; “it seems to be the prestige of the modernists he admires, rather than their stringency”; “that’s not an epiphany, that’s a postcard” – is earned by the argument it arises from. By the end of it Cunningham’s reputation is, well, prone.’
On the judges’ decision to award a special mention to the twenty-six-year-old New Statesman reviewer Leo Robson, Leith added:
‘Leo Robson’s assault on Richard Bradford’s Martin Amis biography is a close runner-up from the best critic of the younger generation: perceptive, astringent and wittily turned. Robson not only knows what Bradford knows about Amis: he knows what Bradford doesn’t know, and amid his barbs are serious and subtle points about what this biography of Martin Amis might profitably have done, and didn’t.’
Speaking at the prize ceremony, fellow judge Rachel Johnson said:
‘This is an award designed not to punish bad writing, but to reward good and brave and funny and learned reviewing, a profession that receives precious other pecuniary recognition.’
The Hatchet Job of the Year Award will be back next year. The award was set up by The Omnivore website to raise the profile of professional critics and to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism.
Adam Mars-Jones on By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham, Observer (23/1/11).
‘Nothing makes a novel seem more vulnerable, more naked, than an armour-plating of literary references. If you’re constantly referring to landmarks, it doesn’t make you look as if you’re striding confidently forward – it makes you look lost. In a 20-page section of Michael Cunningham’s new novel, By Nightfall, in which the hero Peter Harris, an art dealer, visits a faithful client, there are explicit references to: The Magic Mountain, John Cheever, Death in Venice, Donald Barthelme, Raymond Carver, Hawthorne and Death of a Salesman. As if that was not enough (there is no shortage of allusions here to visual art, but they at least are relevant), there’s a further cluster of references to The Great Gatsby, first to Dr TJ Eckleburg (who appears on an advertising hoarding in the book), then Gatsby himself, Daisy Buchanan and even Myrtle Wilsoncorrect. All well and good – but Gatsby didn’t get to be Gatsby by dangling dozens of previous books behind it, like tin cans tied to a tricycle.’
Adam Mars-Jones was born in 1954. He writes book reviews for the Observer and his latest novel, Cedilla, was published by Faber in 2011.