Harshest Ever Book Reviews: Writers The Critics Savaged
The shortlist for the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year awards was announced this week – a prize designed to draw attention to the "angriest, funniest, most trenchant" literary reviews from the past 12 months.
Set up by The Omnivore, an arts criticism aggregation site, the idea of the prize is to draw attention to ‘artful demolitions’ of books in an age when blogging, social networking and Amazon reader reviews means anyone with a keyboard and a computer can publish their opinions.
Geoff Dyer dismissing last year’s Booker Prize winner, The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes with the line: "It isn't terrible, it is just so... average," and David Sexton describing Carol Ann Duffy’s latest collection The Bees as “very GCSE” are among those scathing comments that could be crowned on 7 February.
All of which is great news for authors who have felt the sharp end of a reviewer's pen in the past 12 months, but what about all those writers who never got the chance to answer their critics? Here we round up some of the harshest literary hatchet jobs from history...
"Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin bone."- Mark Twain on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
“Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure.”
- Samuel Johnson on John Milton's Paradise Lost
“A mere ulcer; a sore from head to foot; a poor devil so completely flayed that there is not a square inch of healthy flesh on his carcass; an overgrown pimple, sore to the touch.”
- The Quarterly Review on William Hazlitt in 1817
“Of Dicken's style it is impossible to speak in praise. It is jerky, ungrammatical and created by himself in defiance of rules ... No young novelist should ever dare to imitate the style of Dickens.”
- Anthony Trollope on Charles Dickens
“He has never played any significant part in any movement more significant than that of a fly... on a wheel.”
- Saturday Review on Charles Dickens 1857
“A vain silly, transparent coxcomb without either solid talents or a solid nature.”
- Scottish writer J. G. Lockhart on Samuel Pepys
"Nothing but a pack of lies."
- Damon Runyon on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland
“A huge pendulum attached to a small clock.”
- Ivan Panin, Russian critic, on Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"Never have I read such tosh. As for the first two chapters, we will let them pass, but the third, the fourth the fifth the sixth - merely the scratchings of pimples on the body of the boot-boy at Claridges.”
- Virginia Woolf on James Joyce's Ulysses
“Walt Whitman is as unacquainted with art as a hog with mathematics.”
- London Critic on Walt Whitman
“This is easily one of the worst books I’ve ever read. And bear in mind that I’ve read John Grisham.”
- Susan Cohen on Stieg Larsson’s The Girls With That Dragon Tattoo in the Charleston City Paper
"How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors."
- The Examiner on Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
"Every few years, as a reviewer, one encounters a novel whose ineptitudes are so many in number, and so thoroughgoing, that to explain them fully would produce a text that exceeded the novel itself in both length and interest."
- Robert Macfarlane on The Bedroom Secrets Of The Master Chefs by Irvine Welsh
“A glorified anecdote.”
- H.L. Mencken on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“But the amount of utter trash in the volume is almost infinite -- trash of conception, execution, dialogue and sentiment. Whoever buys the book on the strength of Melville's reputation, will be cheating himself of his money.”
- The Boston Globe on Herman Melville's Pierre
"I have two recommendations. First, don't buy this book. Second, if you buy this book, don't drop it on your foot."
- The New Yorker on Chesapeake by James Michener
The Dorothy Parker trilogy...
"And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up."- on House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne in The New Yorker
“It may be that this autobiography is set down in sincerity, frankness and simple effort. It may be, too, that the Statue of Liberty is situated in Lake Ontario.”- on Service of the King by Aimee Semple McPherson
“This must be a gift book. That is to say, a book which you wouldn’t take on any other terms.”- on Shoot If You Must by Lucius Beebe