Michelle Pauli. “Stiff competition for Bad Sex award.” The Guardian. Monday November 28, 2005.
“Perhaps it isn’t too late for John Updike to bag a Bad Sex award,” wrote Adam Mars-Jones in his Observer review of Villages at the beginning of the year. The longlist for this year’s Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award, announced last Friday, confirms that Mars-Jones’s prediction was on the money.
Updike is in the running for what the organisers call Britain’s “most dreaded literary prize”, with an extract from Villages in which an adulterous character appraises his lover’s vagina: “[it] did not feel like Phyllis’s. Smoother, somehow simpler, its wetness less thick, less of a sauce, more of a glaze”.
But, excruciating as his entry is, Updike is up against some stiff competition. Among the 11 contenders for the prize this year are some of the biggest names in literature, including Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paul Theroux. Of the three, Theroux’s offering, from Blinding Light, is arguably the most deserving of the prize, with its description of a character’s orgasm as
“…not juice at all but a demon eel thrashing in his loins and swimming swiftly up his cock, one whole creature of live slime fighting the stiffness as it rose and bulged at the tip and darted into her mouth.”
Theroux does, at least, manage to insert some punctuation into his description. Giles Coren, however, is in the running for an extract which comprises a 138-word long sentence followed by a two-word followup (“Like Zorro”, in case you were wondering) and which contains the alarming image of an excited male member “leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath”.
There is much unintentional humour in the extracts on offer, most particularly in Guillaume Lecasble’s description of a lobster’s seduction technique (“his feelers were just able to reach the satin of the panties”) and Marlon Brando’s almost incomprehensible sex scene from his posthumously-released novel Fan Tan.
Now in its 13th year, the prize, which only targets literary fiction, aims “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.” The winner, who will be announced on December 1 at the In & Out Club in London, is awarded a semi-abstract statue representing sex in the 1950s and a bottle of champagne, if he or she turns up.
Last year’s winner, Tom Wolfe, was one of the very few recipients to fail to attend; he later criticised the judges for failing to recognise the irony contained in the winning passage from I Am Charlotte Simmons.
28.11.2005: Read the longlisted passages for the Bad Sex in Fiction award