/ 5 December 2013

Exploding supernovas of passion: the bad sex awards

Manil Suri.
Manil Suri.

Among the pools of sweat, ripe Brie, knotted vines, hot stones, and chocolatey tobacco in this year’s entries, it was the exploding supernovas of Manil Suri’s third novel, The City of Devi, that clinched him the most dreaded award in the world of books: the Literary Review bad sex prize.

It was presented by the actress Joan Collins at a ceremony attended by 400 guests at the Naval and Military Club in London: the club is generally known as the In & Out.

Suri – who has previously been long-listed for the Man Booker and short-listed for the Faulkner awards – lives in the United States, where he is professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland. He was unable to attend the prize ceremony, but a representative of his publisher Bloomsbury accepted it on his behalf.

He was in a competitive field this year, but the judges were seduced by the climax of a sex scene – set in Mumbai under threat of a nuclear bomb – involving his main characters: Sarita, her physicist husband Karun and a young gay man.

Suri wrote: "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."

His publishers said: "In accepting this award we challenge everyone to make up their own mind about Manil Suri’s The City of Devi … Take [it] home to bed with you tonight and discover sex scenes that the TLS [Times Literary Supplement] praised as ‘unfettered, quirky, beautiful, tragic and wildly experimental’."

The prize was launched in 1993 by the late Auberon Waugh, to "draw attention to crude, badly written, or perfunctory use of passages of sexual description in contemporary novels – and to discourage it".

Past winners include Tom Wolfe, AA Gill and Norman Mailer, and in 2008 John Updike was awarded a lifetime achievement prize.

The musician Woody Guthrie made this year’s short list 46 years after his death. His book House of Earth, written in 1947, was published for the first time this year and has a love scene lasting 30 pages that is literally a roll in 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."

The judges also noted admiringly Eric Reinhardt, in The Victoria System: "The zip of her skirt sputtered between her fingernails like a motorboat on a waveless sea … My erection beat time in my underwear." – © Guardian News & Media 2013