Literature’s Bad Sex is getting better, award judges admit

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 10:41am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 10:45pm

Pulsing waves, fumbling fingers, tortured tongues and firework metaphors are as abundant as ever on the shortlist for the Bad Sex in fiction award, which is returning for its annual exhibition of atrocious erotic writing.

But this year, even the sworn foes of feeble literary coupling who run the prize concede, the sex in books has actually got better.

According to the Literary Review’s Frank Brinkley, the magazine has noted an improvement in the sex scenes in this year’s fiction. “There’s plenty of sex around (such as in Patrick Ness) but a lot of it is quite good,” he said. “Maybe we are having an effect – definitely literary fiction’s changing and the ‘Oh sod it, I’ll put in a sex scene’ attitude that prompted the creation of the award has pretty much fallen by the wayside. Maybe publishers aren’t pushing for it in the way that ‘sex sells’ was used as a prompt 15 years ago, either. All to the good.”

He lightly kissed my breasts, his beard all grassy, like a great sea sponge
Monique Roffey’s ‘The Tryst’

Established “to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction”, the Literary Review prize has been awarded in the past to authors including Morrissey and Norman Mailer.

This year, bestseller Wilbur Smith is nominated for War Cry, co-written with David Churchill, with the judges citing a frigid seaside encounter where a distinguished war veteran expostulates: “It’s bloody cold. I might get frostbite on my ****.”

Laurent Binet, who won the prestigious French Goncourt prize for his previous novel, HHhH, was picked for a passage from his semiological thriller, The Seventh Function of Language, in which phrases from the philosopher Gilles Deleuze “flash through” the hero’s mind “just as his body convulses, as Bianca’s bolts and breaks down, then collapses on top of him, exhausted, their sweat mingling”.

Christopher Bollen’s The Destroyers, Venetia Welby’s Mother of Darkness, Neil Griffiths’ As a God Might Be, Jarett Kobek’s The Future Won’t Be Long and Simon Wroe’s Here Comes Trouble complete the shortlist.

Organisers said that the prize was not intended to cover expressly pornographic literature, so while Monique Roffey’s The Tryst was “heavily nominated”, it was not eligible, “even though it is full of the sort of lines that tend to be picked up by the judges, such as: ‘He lightly kissed my breasts, his beard all grassy, like a great sea sponge.’”

UK lawmaker Vince Cable was also nominated by “many people”, the Literary Review added, but the judges thought the sex in his debut thriller Open Arms was “very discreet”, adding that the novel “does not qualify simply because its author is a Member of Parliament”.

The winner will be announced on 30 November.