It's that time of the year again, when Britain's most dreaded Literary Prize, the Literary Review's Bad Sex award contenders are shortlisted. This year will mark the 21st edition of the award "for the most embarrassing passage of sexual description in a novel."
In a year in which the Man Booker Prize has tentatively stretched its remit across the Atlantic, the Bad Sex Award, which has long been cosmopolitan and ecumenical, the shortlist reaches from the USA to India, and from writers in their pomp to one published from beyond the grave:
- My Education by Susan Choi
- The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood
- House of Earth by Woody Guthrie
- Motherland by William Nicholson
- The Victoria System by Eric Reinhardt
- The World Was All Before Them by Matthew Reynolds
- The City of Devi by Manil Suri
- Secrecy by Rupert Thomson
American singer Woody Guthrie made it to the list on a posthumous nomination for his newly-discovered, posthumous novel, released earlier this year, which included phrases such as "her body melted into a single note of music to the sky."
The judges revealed they "agonised" over a passage from Helen Fielding's new Bridget Jones: Mad about The Boy, but felt it did not make the cut. The following encounter between the famous singleton and an ex-army officer was deemed "not quite cringeworthy enough:
"'Oh, oh,' I gasped. 'Did they teach you this in the SAS?'"
Some of the gems from this year's short-list:
Certainly had the windows been open, as would have made sense on that sunny June day, my thundering cries, in the end, would have summoned the neighbours; for Martha, in dismantling me, dredged a voice out of me I did not know I owned; the devastation of my pleasure surged outward and outward again, like an ocean-floor tremour, while that voice I had never imagined was bellowing harshly oh GOD, oh GOD, OHGODOHGOD! – and it was then that Martha finally flung herself onto my shore, and through violent sobs kissed me, as if drenched in my juices as she had become, eyes glued shut, stringy-haired, fever-cheeked, parched and gasping for water and air, she’d been born out of me in those hours, bodied forth by titanic orgasm, and now she was helplessly, utterly mine for the rest of all time
Weeping we knotted our bodies together, caressing and hushing each other, until we both must have slept, to awake it seemed many hours later, and gaze at each other in mute wonderment. ‘Fuck,’ she said, sitting up. ‘What the fuck time is it?’"
...Until now, my orgasms had been deep and ponderous things; slow to yield to excavation; self-annihilating when they finally did, so that in their wake I felt voided and calm, every yen neutralised, and gazed on whoever had managed the work with benign noninterest. Never had there been this tormenting, self-heightening pleasure, like a hail of hot stones, and yet she seemed to recognise just what had happened, so that before I had even stopped keening she bore down again. She made me come so many times that afternoon that had I been somewhat older, I might have dropped dead. Had I been a doll, she might have twisted off each of my limbs, and sucked the knobs until they glistened, and drilled her tongue into each of the holes.
– My Education by Susan Choi
Reaching behind me, I found the Brie and broke off a fragment, sucking her nipple through it. She tasted almost as she had the day I took the drop of milk on my finger.
Manon smiled when she realised what I was doing.
You know the peasant saying? If you can't imagine how neighbouring vineyards can produce such different wines put one finger in your woman's quim and another up her arse, then taste both and stop asking stupid questions… My fingers found both vineyards. At the front, she tasted salt as anchovy and as delicious. At the rear, bitter like chocolate and smelling strangely of tobacco.
In my mouth her nipple turned from strawberry to deep raspberry but the taste I wanted was missing. I had sweat and what had to be soap from washing her dress or herself.Reaching behind me, I found the Brie and broke off a fragment, sucking her nipple through it. She tasted almost as she had the day I took the drop of milk on my finger.
– The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood
Back and forth, side to side, they moved on their bed on the hay. Back and forth, side to side, they moved their hips, their feet, their legs, their whole bodies. Their arms tied into knots like vines climbing trees, and the trees moved and swayed, and there was a time and a rhythm to the blend of the movement. And inside the door of her womb she felt her inner organs and tissues, all her muscles and glands, felt them roll, squeeze, squeeze, and roll, and felt that every inch of her whole being stretched, reached, felt out, felt in, felt all around the shape of his penis....
So magnified and so keen were her feelings that her inner nerves could even feel the bumps, the ridges, the pimples, the few stray hairs along the shaft of his male rod.
– House of Earth by Woody Guthrie
So are we going to do it, Lawrence?’
‘Yes,’ he whispers. ‘Yes.’
‘Doesn’t the Catholic Church say it’s wrong?’
‘Yes,’ he says.
‘Fucking me is wrong.’
‘But you want to fuck me even so, Lawrence.’
‘Yes,’ he groans, feeling the tip of his c--- pushing into her a little way.
‘If you fuck me, will God punish you, Lawrence?’
‘I don’t care,’ he says.
‘God won’t punish you,’ she says, ‘if you love me.’
‘I love you, Nell. I love you. I love you.’
She moves her hips, pushing him deeper into her all the time, and as she does so she whispers, ‘Fuck me now, Lawrence. Fuck me now.’"
– Motherland by William Nicholson
...For me, Victoria was like a deep nocturnal forest that I strode through without knowing where I was going, through woodland, amid ferns, under tall shivering trees, far from any path.
There were noises, puddles, odours, dampness, shapes that vanished, treetops overhanging our bodies. I thought of nothing. I let our frolics lead where they would. I experienced moments of fulfilment and astonishment, euphoria and intimidation, and then episodes of grace when Victoria smiled at me, overcome with happiness, as if we were lying in a glade...
‘Look,’ she was saying, ‘look at my breasts. I want to show them to you. I hope you like them. They’re for you. I’m giving them to you.’
And her chest appeared before my eyes like a slow-motion shot of a natural phenomenon in a television documentary.
Drops of sweat running down her temples shone through this incandescent lull like crystal ladybirds.
I waited, tensed, tortured, for Victoria’s palms to start descending once again towards the elastic of my underwear.
– The Victoria System by Eric ReinhardtIn the dappled shadows the bodies cling and thrust and arc and stretch. Toes splay. Arms prop shoulders from which a torso slopes. Two legs spring into the air. A head flaps from side to side. Fingers tense, hips grip and ankles twine. Forehead bows to forehead and hair touches in the air as eyes look longingly into eyes, thighs vie, lip lips lip and…
But, damn, dammit! – what was this?
Anxiously he began to get the impression that his vas deferens was initiating its rhythmic squeezing too soon, too soon …
And now his tongue was sliding over that lumpy right nipple, and his teeth were nibbling at it, and the palm of his other hand was giving some attention to the neglected soft other nipple, and she stirred and her breath became a moan as endorphinergic and morphinergic mechanisms spluttered into life.
But phew she too seemed to be surfing the waves of neuromuscular euphoria, so that as, sweating, panting, he bowed his forehead to her chest, she gripped him tight, her sharp nails stabbing; and then they were grinning and kissing each other’s noses, cheeks; and then they lay entangled for a moment, breathing; and then they rose, one after another, went for a piss, came back and settled into bed again.
– The World Was All Before Them by Matthew Reynolds
Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.
– The City of Devi by Manil Suri
‘I came too quickly,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it.’
‘No, no. It was good. I liked it.’
‘I saw flowers. Huge mauve and yellow flowers, all massed together, and falling slowly through the air —’
‘When you hit your head?’
I laughed again. ‘No, before. When I was inside you.’
‘Flowers?’ she said. ‘I never heard of anything like that.’
I closed my eyes as well and moved inside her, imagining the ribbed flesh, the supple rings of muscle.
Mauve and yellow flowers filled the blank screen of my eyelids, the petals loosening and drifting downwards on to smooth grey stone.
I kissed the soft bristles in the hollow of her armpit, then I kissed the smaller hollow of her clavicle.
I moved up to her mouth, which smelled of ripe melon. Not the wound-red Tuscan watermelon, but the pale-green variety I had bought in Naples once, and which had grown, so I was told, on the wild coast of Barbaria.
– Secrecy by Rupert Thomson
As the Literary Review stresses in its press-release, the purpose of the prize is to draw attention to the crude, badly written, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.
The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature. The ceremony will take place on Tuesday 3 December 2013. Last year the prize was won by Canadian author Nancy Huston for her book Infrared.
Some of the more cringeworthy passages from the books on the shortlist were tweeted by @Lit_Review:
- 'She has his cock in her hand now, and she's rubbing the tip against her slit. He feels tremors of dangerous delight'
- 'Back and forth, side to side, they moved their hips, their feet, their legs, their whole bodies.'
- 'As his excitement reaches its usual modest plateau, I realise I can't sustain it. We don't have enough room for free movement.'
- 'I closed my eyes as well and moved inside her, imagining the ribbed flesh, the supple rings of muscle.'
- 'In the dappled shadows the bodies cling and thrust and arc and stretch. Toes splay. Arms prop shoulders from which a torso slopes.'
- 'She could, when I gave up the struggle, with a leisurely sigh sink her face in my cunt... I seemed to come right away.'
- 'I opened her knees, but only so I could kneel between them and put my mouth to her breast and suck.'
- 'I waited, tensed, tortured, for Victoria's palms to start descending once again towards the elastic of my underwear.' [The Victoria System by Eric Reinhardt]
- 'I held her body against mine as tightly as I could, and I kissed her on the mouth. We made love for five hours.'
- 'He feels the intensity of his love for her with each repetition, along with the tingling in his cock.'
- 'And inwardly she caressed, touched, petted, and fondled, squeezed, the whole length and all of the sides of the penis.'
- 'Matching ... rhythm proves elusive. I love him, have to repeatedly tuck him back in. To my amazement, he neither wilts nor fades.'
- 'When I reached beneath her and held her buttocks in my hands, she trembled all over, her cunt seeming to flutter'
- 'fever-cheeked, parched and gasping for water and air, she'd been born out of me in those hours, bodied forth by titanic orgasm'
- 'At the front, she tasted salt as anchovy and as delicious. At the rear, bitter like chocolate and smelling strangely of tobacco'
- 'She stood bare-legged in high heels, bra and knickers. Her body was absolutely gigantic, but harmonious in its proportions.'
- 'I was on top of her, or she was on top of me. My heels pressed against the sides of the bed and I saw her breasts sway'
- 'I rode her hard, ploughing deep and savouring the feeling of myself inside her. The heat was incredible, the sense of flesh dizzying'
- 'For Martha, in dismantling me, dredged a voice out of me I did not know I owned'
- 'The devastation of my pleasure surged outward and outward again, like an ocean-floor tremor'
- 'Anxiously he began to get the impression that his vas deferens was initiating its rhythmic squeezing too soon, too soon …'
- 'I moved up to her mouth, which smelled of ripe melon. Not the wound-red Tuscan watermelon, but the pale-green variety I had bought'
- 'Lying under Karun, I now feel the sensations reach deep inside me–every time he presses in, every thrust that drives into his body'
- 'She felt her belly suck with all her strength, all her power, suck, suck, suck, with all her blood, all her heat, all her life.'
- 'His cock is in her now, gripped by sweet warmth, and he knows he can't restrain himself any longer. His desire is in total control of his being, and it seeks its explosive release.'
- 'Doesn't the Catholic Church say it's wrong?’
'Yes,' he says.
'Fucking me is wrong.'
'But you want to fuck me even so, Lawrence.'
She moves her hips, pushing him deeper into her all the time, and as she does so she whispers, 'Fuck me now, Lawrence. Fuck me now.'
- She strokes his back with warm hands. 'There,' she says. 'There.'
- He thrusts deep into her, & pulls back, & thrusts again, & the moment comes, & he half-faints with the intense pleasure of it.
- And this caused her to work and to move and to roll and to breathe hard, to forget her name, her own self completely.
- His juice came from the end of his penis, each drop sent her into rolls, squirms, fits, convulsions of a kind past either pain or joy
- My body ignites just as his fades. He embraces me in a cuddle that promises only affection.
- Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands
- 'I came too quickly,' I said. 'I'm sorry. I couldn't help it.'
'No, no. It was good. I liked it.'
- Their lips were scuffing each other's cheeks and lips and necks. Hearts thudding, the valves snapping open, slamming shut.
- I seemed to come right away, with a hard, popping effervescence, as if her mouth had raised blisters, or an uppermost froth
- At last I put the candle down and slid two of her fingers inside her, tasting them afterwards.
- She spent fiercely, bucking beneath me with her nails in my back to hold me still while she wrung the last from her moment.
- The zip of her skirt sputtered between her fingernails like a motorboat on a waveless sea. We never took our eyes off each other.
- Her eyes, thick with desire, gave me the same pleasure her fingers and her lips had given me.