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8 February 2012updated 27 Sep 2015 4:01am

Burying the hatchet

Adam Mars-Jones wins award for the "most trenchant book review of the past twelve months".

By Jonathan Derbyshire

At a very jolly ceremony at the Coach and Horses in Soho last night, Adam Mars-Jones won the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year Award, organised by the review aggregating website The Omnivore. The prize, which rewards the “author of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months”, was judged by the journalists Suzi Feay, Rachel Johnson, Sam Leith and D J Taylor.

In the winning review, of Michael Cunningham’s novel By Nightfall, Mars-Jones writes:

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. …

The book’s pages are filled with thoughts about art, or (more ominously) Thoughts about Art. Since its action occupies little more than a day, the effect is highly artificial, an avalanche of compacted insights, so that Peter can see in his wife’s tired beauty in the morning light “a deep, heartbreaking humanness that’s the source and the opposite of art”. Even when these are golden formulas – like that one – they are leaden as moments, making the narrative degenerate into a string for wise and lovely beads. …

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Two comely young people standing in the lake shallows, “looking out at the milky haze of the horizon” – that’s not an epiphany, that’s a postcard.

The judges also gave an honourable mention to the runner-up, the New Statesman‘s lead fiction reviewer Leo Robson, for his review of Richard Bradford’s biography of Martin Amis:

Martin Amis – snooker player, smoker, pithy interviewee, latter-day Napoleon of Notting Hill, sledgehammer satirist, underbelly fetishist, sporadically great novelist, victim of press intrusion and dental surgery, weepy memorialist of middle-age woes – needs a biographer who can separate the myth from the truth, who can pick through the debris of aphoristic soundbite and self-mythologising anecdote and find . . . something.

Richard Bradford considers himself the man for the job, but I doubt that anyone else will. …

[Bradford’s book] is full of repetition, contradictions and small, avoidable errors: Bradford seems to get things slightly wrong almost as a matter of principle. It is also full of spectacularly bad writing – about spectacularly good writing.

Mars-Jones was presented with an actual hatchet by Rachel Johnson and a year’s supply of potted shrimp by the award’s sponsor, the Fish Society.