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Bad sex, worse text

Stephen Bates

The Literary Review awards highlight the steamiest and most excruciating writing of the year.

The first thing that arises out of the nominations for this year’s bad sex awards—the excruciating writing highlighted by the Literary Review each year—is just how fecund the writers’ imaginations are. If they have done half the things they have ascribed to their characters their spectacles must have steamed up.

There are agile tongues, rooms that begin to shake, warm wet caves, volcanic releases, moist meat, bottomless swamps of dead fish and yellow lilies in bloom and cellars filled with a heady store of wines and spirits emitting wafts of gaseous bouquets.

And that is before you get to massaging, kneading, stretching, rubbing, pinching, flicking, feathering, licking, kissing and gently biting, which all occur in just one sentence, thanks to David Guterson.

Now in their 19th year, the awards have short-listed 12 authors before the presentation later this month, among them some of the most distinguished—or at least bestselling—authors in the world.

They come from Britain, the United States, Hungary, Japan and Australia.

Among them is the monarch of horror, Stephen King, who may not have realised—when he wrote in his new novel 11.22.63: “She leaned back and her head bonked on the door”—that bonking has a more ribald meaning in the United Kingdom. Haruki Murakami, the author of the 1Q84 trilogy, might also have thought better of calling one of his female characters “Fukaeri”.

The Literary Review said: “In a year in which literary awards have come under fire for parochialism and dumbing down [we are] proud to uphold and recognise literary excellence from around the world ... The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel and to discourage it.”

Just two of the novelists on the list are women: Jean Auel, the 75-year-old author of the Earth’s Children prehistoric series, and Dori Ostermiller.

The most off-putting may be the description by Christos Tsiolkas, the Australian author of The Slap, in his novel Dead Europe, which may not be suitable even for a Mail & Guardian reader’s breakfast table.

The most succinct must be Chris Adrian in the San Francisco-set The Great Night: “Now they fucked in earnest, which seemed like the right thing to do.”

The Literary Review said there is still time for more nominations before the awards ceremony at London’s Naval and Military Club on Piccadilly in London, appropriately known as the In and Out, on December 6.—

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