Ouch! Check Out the Harshest Book Review of the Year

A Sunday Times essay on a "vague literary blah" of a book has been named the Hatchet Job of the Year

  • Share
  • Read Later
Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation

Q: What do Lady Macbeth, the removal of a molar and a one-legged landlady have in common?

A: They’re all part of a blistering review penned by critic Camilla Long in her March 4, 2012, Sunday Times takedown of Rachel Cusk’s book Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation. Her singular feat of verbal devastation was recently recognized as the Hatchet Job of the Year by the literary digest The Omnivore, which described her piece as “angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review” of 2012.

(MORETIME’s Top 10 Fiction Books of 2012)

It’s not hard to see why Long deserves the award. She begins her review by calling it “quite simply, bizarre”—and it only gets weirder (and meaner) from there. Here’s just one choice selection from her scathing take on the story of a marriage’s end (available in full at the Omnivore’s site):

The book is crammed with mad, flowery metaphors and hifalutin creative-writing experiments. There are hectic passages on Greek tragedy and the Christian concept of family, as well as fragments of ghost stories, references to the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy, and heavy Freudian symbolism, including a long description of the removal of a molar, “a large tooth,” she writes portentously, “of great…personal significance”. The final chapter is an out-of-body experience — her situation seen through the eyes of her pill-popping Eastern European au pair. Oddly, I read the whole thing in a Bulgarian accent.

Along with the honor and glory of the award, Long will receive a year’s worth of potted shrimp, an English culinary staple.

John Walsh, one of this year’s judges, explained to the Independent why bad reviews are worth rewarding: “Expressions of delight and approbation are welcome to authors, publishers and people looking for birthday-gift ideas. Bad reviews, however, reverberate down the years,” he said. The best hatchet jobs are more than a list of problems with a book—and in this particular case, the winner prevailed due to its surprising effect on the reader. “It made you want to go and read the book,” said Walsh, “for all its faults.”

(MORE: TIME’s Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2012)


Disappointed to see that this woman's bile has gone rewarded, her scathing put downs and toff nosed opinions do no one justice. I am all for fair critique or appraisal but not to the extent of her long worded long winded sarcy trash. One star for The Book Thief? Please, take your head out Camilla, and you might actually see the movies or books you're reviewing for real and not just make up long sentences to make yourself sound like you know stuff.


I collect words I do not know, but I can't find a definition for "hifalutin."

Can I get a little help?

yours in great confusion,


What maknoblauch said...


Book and music reviews always crack me up simply for the odd and rarely used words that the authors fervently seek to inject into their writing.  Typically, words are used that you never hear anywhere else but . .  . book and music reviews.  Just in the one paragraph posted: hifalutin, heptarchy, portentously (LOL, even my auto-correct is flagging the first two words).  I can't think of one incidence where I've heard those words used.  My take is that it's all an overzealous attempt to try to inject a hint of pure pretentiousness into what is clearly nothing more than a copy editor's job.  


@PamalaDixonIt's a variation on highfalutin.  Observe the immense pomposity of sesquipedalian verbiage...

A writer shouldn't confuse the reader.