Book critics' fiercest judgments contend for award promoting 'integrity and wit in literary journalism'
Launched last year by The Omnivore website, the prize is intended to "promote integrity and wit in literary journalism" by rewarding "the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past 12 months", with the winning critic taking home a golden hatchet and a year's supply of potted shrimp. This year eight reviews are competing for the honour, from Heller's attack on Rushdie's Joseph Anton – "an unembarrassed sense of what he is owed as an embattled, literary immortal-in-waiting pervades his book" – in the New York Review of Books, to Ron Charles's write-up of Amis's Lionel Asbo in the Washington Post as "serving up blanched stereotypes on the silver platter of his prose as though it contained enough spice to entertain or even shock".
Craig Brown, writing in the Mail on Sunday, makes the line-up after describing Richard Bradford's The Odd Couple as "a triumph of 'cut and paste' – indeed, such a triumph that by now Bradford must be able to press the Command button and C for Copy simultaneously in his sleep". Bradford now holds the dubious honour of having a review of one of his books make the shortlist for the second year running.
Richard Evans's denunciation of AN Wilson's Hitler as "a travesty of a biography" puts him in the running, as does Claire Harman's demolition of Andrew Motion's novel Silver as "both boring and implausible", and Allan Massie's weary annihilation of Craig Raine's The Divine Comedy. "The book is full of what I suppose is wordplay about 'coming' and 'going' in a sexual context, about circumcision and the pudenda, about masturbation and fellation, about farts and the various forms of sexual congress, all named – boldly? proudly? It grows wearisome, very quickly," wrote Massie in the Scotsman.
Camilla Long – who also made the shortlist last year – was chosen for her review of Rachel Cusk's Aftermath in the Sunday Times (the book is "quite simply, bizarre," wrote Long), while Suzanne Moore, writing in the Guardian, was picked for her rejection of Naomi Wolf's Vagina: "She comes in a package that is marketed as feminism but is actually breathlessly written self-help."
Site editor Anna Baddeley said that "critics' quills were noticeably sharper in 2012", speculating that they were maybe "inspired by the thought of a year's worth of potted shrimp … But there is still a long way to go. Book reviews are, in the main, too fawning and dull," said Baddeley.
Lynn Barber, John Walsh and Francis Wheen make up this year's judging panel, and will reveal their winner on 12 February. Last year's prize was taken by Adam Mars-Jones, for his review of Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall in the Observer. "At the very least, shouldn't a writer try to shield the kettle of language from further cracks by knowing the meanings of the words he uses?" asked Mars-Jones, adding "the book's pages are filled with thoughts about art, or (more ominously) Thoughts about Art".