Revenge, it appears, is a dish best served on the pages of a detective novel. In his forthcoming novel, Anthony Horowitz has taken a metaphysical approach to revenge for a critical mauling by killing the Sunday Times theater critic.
Horowitz, the acclaimed creator of several adult and children’s fiction series, has confessed that he goes into a “dark place” whenever his work is criticized. “Even one review will really, really upset me,” he said at a recent talk. “It can last years.”
He has spoken in the past of his devastation about reviews for his 2015 play, Dinner with Saddam, which was given two stars by the Times critic Ann Treneman. She called it “a very funny half-a-play [that] all went wrong just before dinner was served”.
In 2017 Horowitz described the theater world as brutal and horrible, saying that theater critics had the “power of getting you on the first night”. He told the Edinburgh International Book Festival: “When they come in and are horrible about somebody’s work, that just makes me angry.”
Now, through his new Detective Hawthorne novel — which features an author called Anthony Horowitz — the critic finally gets their comeuppance.
“Even one review will really, really upset me. It can last years.”
A publishing catalogue entry on The Twist of a Knife, which is released later this year, describes how the fictional Horowitz’s new play at the “famous Vaudeville Theatre in Shoreditch … has not received universal acclaim”.
“In particular, Sunday Times critic Harriet Throsby gives it a savage review, focusing particularly on the writing. The next day Throsby is stabbed in the heart with an ornamental dagger, which, it turns out, belongs to Anthony, and which has his fingerprints all over it.” Horowitz is then arrested on suspicion of murder.
Tensions between critics and creators have always simmered, but in recent years there has been a sense of increasing intolerance toward reviewers, with social media allowing people to defend their favorite artists, sometimes abusively.
In guidance issued last year, Equity, the union representing performing artists, advised critics to consider their relative privilege when critiquing a performance, and to consider whether they were best placed to interpret a story. “True objectivity does not exist,” it said, “so their reviews will always be influenced by their own lived experience”.
Last month Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London threatened to stop inviting critics to performances unless they commented with “respect and sensitivity”.
Horowitz told the Hay Festival last month that The Twist of a Knife was about how writers feel when their work is not appreciated. “Being attacked by critics is always painful. It always hurts,” he said. “I go into a dark place when that happens. Even one review will really, really upset me. It can last years. I can actually remember reviews — the first review I got for Forever and a Day was a stinker. It was the worst review I ever had.”
Horowitz said his son had attempted to hide that review from him, and that in another case “the editor of the paper rang me the day before and said, ‘Don’t buy the paper’. But one of the reasons why I wrote a third novel was to say, ‘Go to hell … I’m just going to keep going anyway’. You can’t let criticism change your mind about what you’ve done. You’ve got to believe in what you’ve done.”
Horowitz, 67, once said he would use a pseudonym if he wrote another play.
The Twist of a Knife, by Anthony Horowitz, will be available in the U.S. later this year
David Sanderson is the art correspondent for The Times of London