Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. A new magazine is currently trumpeting its launch of another literary prize, the Good Sex Award, with the intention of putting ‘the “hard” back into hardback’. This silliness aside, one must question the wisdom of encouraging authors to sex up their prose. The submissions for this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award testify to a continuing willingness among writers to suffer the gentle indignity of a nomination. Ironically, several among them find themselves in contention for both prizes.
Our intention is not to humiliate, rather to discourage writers from inserting redundant, embarrassing sex scenes into books that would have been better without them. Several of the nominations for this year’s competition were ill-deserved: Adam Thirlwell found considerable support for his novel, Politics (Jonathan Cape), but this, stuffed with sex of all kinds though it is, contains little to interest our judges. In fact, the worst writing occurs in the many digressions (on subjects as varied as Stalinist Russia and al-Qaeda) that punctuate Moshe’s and Nana’s endless romps. Also put forward was James Delingpole for his Thinly Disguised Autobiography but any absurdities (‘my cock’s growing so fast it feels like it’s going to burst out of its skin like a frying sausage’) are redeemed by the exuberance and wit of the narrative. In Azur Like It (Headline), Wendy Holden pays affectionate homage to Sebastian Faulks’s winning entry from Charlotte Gray (1998) with the following passage:
Moments later, she was savouring the delicious savagery of his thrusts. From a distance beyond the rushing in her ears, Kate listened for some moments to the yells of delight before realising they were hers.
The more serious contenders tend to fall into two categories: the spiritual and the bestial. Of the former, Paulo Coelho deserves our unreserved admiration. His Eleven Minutes (HarperCollins) contains some outstanding examples of bad sex. His heroine is a prostitute searching for something better (as his characters invariably do). When off-duty, she reads voraciously, and is astonished at language’s inadequacy in describing sex, as Coelho goes on (albeit unintentionally) to illustrate:
As he simultaneously penetrated and touched me, I felt that he was doing this not only to me, but to the whole universe . . . and suddenly, a kind of light exploded inside me. I was no longer myself, but a being infinitely superior to everything I knew. When his hand took me to my fourth orgasm, I entered a place where everything seemed at peace, and with my fifth orgasm I knew God. Then I felt him beginning to move inside me again, although his hand had still not stopped, and I said ‘Oh, God’, and surrendered to whatever came next. Heaven or Hell.
It was Heaven. I was the earth, the mountains, the tigers, the rivers that flowed into the lakes, the lake that became the sea. He was thrusting faster and faster now, and the pain was mingled with pleasure, and I could have said: ‘I can’t take I any more’, but that would have been unfair, because, by then, he and I were one person.
Then they bless each other (‘blessed be this woman, who has loved much’), and settle down by the fire with a book and glass of wine. My enjoyment of all this was greatly enhanced by the knowledge that Coelho found favour with the judges of the Good Sex Award.
Nearly as interested in the spiritual qualities of sex is Rod Liddle in his amusing short-story collection, Too Beautiful for You (Century).
But in truth she is conscious mainly of Eddie’s penis in her mouth – and in a strange, dislocated sense, of the green sunlight still shimmering through the trees around her – totally immersed in this act of benediction and supplication.
In the other stories, a character has a vision of ‘the puckering, tawny anus of a celestial virgin’, while another character ‘came with the exhilarating whoops and pant-hoots of a troop of Rhesus monkeys, which was flattering, if alarming’.
Equally alarmingly, Paul Theroux introduces a whole menagerie into The Stranger at the Palazzo d’Oro (Hamish Hamilton), from every type of dog to a lion. The opening story features a successful artist reminiscing over his relationship, as a penniless young man, with an older woman.
The softness of her in the dark, far softer-seeming because of the dark, was irresistible. And the aroma of her lily-fragrant perfume mingled with the cat smell of her steaming cunt made me salivate and pant like a lion, my nose tormented by damp fur and hot blood. Still I could not tell where her softness ended and her silk began, and the complexity of her vaginal lips was like another elaborate silken garment she had put on for me to stroke. I adored the gleam of her body in the light from the Taormina street lamps and the blistered moon.
But she preferred darkness to light, the floor to the bed, silence to words, my roughness to my gentleness, clothes to nakedness; preferred serving me to my making love to her. She knelt and worshipped my cock with her mouth and her gloved hands and she cried out louder than I did when I came, spattering her face as she licked.
In their frenzy, the lovers also adopt the forms of cannibals, forest demons, peasant boys and princesses.
The figure of the artist appears in several other nominations. Mario Vargas Llosa alternates descriptions of Gauguin’s paint and semen in The Way to Paradise (Faber & Faber). John Updke’s Seek My Face (Hamish Hamilton) tackles the issues of gender and art: ‘Cunts can’t paint. There are pots and brushes, pots don’t paint. They don’t stick out. Sticks and brushes paint.’ Then, ‘She would blow him while he kneeled straddling her face on the tatty brown sofa in his Pearl Street loft … and then show him his pale semen inside her mouth, displayed on her arched tongue like a little Tachiste masterpiece before she swallowed it or disgorged it back onto his still-firm prick’.
In these matters, Rod Liddle emphatically favours quantity over quality:
Paul ejaculates voluminously and with very great force indeed. In fact he keeps on and on ejaculating . . . and he begins to wonder if it will ever cease [creating] the vast lagoon of semen in the centre of the bed.
Almost rivalling this in sheer energy is Aniruddha Bahal’s bizarre scene from Bunker 13 (Faber & Faber):
She’s taking off her blouse. It’s on the floor. Her breasts are placards for the endomorphically endowed. In spite of yourself a soft whistle of air escapes you. She’s taking off her trousers now. They are a heap on the floor. Her panties are white and translucent. You can see the dark hair sticking to them inside. There’s a design as well. You gasp. ‘What’s that?’ you ask. You see a designer pussy. Hair razored and ordered in the shape of a swastika. The Aryan denominator . . . As your hands roam her back, her breasts, and trace the swastika on her mound you start feeling like an ancient Aryan warlord yourself. A chieftain in communion with his power source . . .
She sandwiches your nozzle between her tits, massaging it with a slow rhythm. A trailer to bookmark the events ahead. For now she has taken you in her lovely mouth. Your palms are holding her neck and thumbs are at her ears regulating the speed of her head as she swallows and then sucks up your machinery.
She is topping up your engine oil for the cross-country coming up. Your RPM is hitting a new high. To wait any longer would be to lose prime time . . .
She picks up a Bugatti’s momentum. You want her more at a Volkswagen’s steady trot. Squeeze the maximum mileage out of your gallon of gas. But she’s eating up the road with all cylinders blazing. You lift her out. You want to try different kinds of fusion.
Also interested in cars is Tama Janowitz in Peyton Amberg (Bloomsbury). One scene features a character probing the heroine’s ‘vaginal canal, as if he were searching for lost car keys’. And later:
It was just two bodies fucking, and yet his was expertly handling hers. He might have been driving a race car.
He took her hips in his hands, just a bit below her buttocks and squeezed them together which pushed her over the edge into orgasm, and for a moment she thought with alarm she was urinating as well. She tipped forward so that she was lying on top of him, flat; her face was down at his neck and she drooled a bit, her orgasm wasn’t stopping, and then he let out a dull animal yell, a sort of blues shout, and his penis throbbed – she guessed he was having an orgasm too, since he shoved her down on him once more. with force and then stopped.
‘That was fabulous,’ she said after a pause. They lay glued together, starfish shriveled in the hot sun on a rock.
At the time of writing, entries are still coming in (the winner will be announced on 3 December at the Bad Sex party). Also under serious consideration are Carlos Fuentes, Nichola McAuliffe, Debbie Taylor, and many others, includng the acclaimed director Alan Parker for the following passage from The Sucker’s Kiss (Sceptre):
I’m not much of a muff diver. but I can strongly recommend that Kentucky cocktail of Sneaky Pete and strawberry juice. Further down my body, Honey Mackintosh bobbed up and down between-my legs, her big soft lips locked around my hootchee and, true to her Scottish roots, she sucked away like she was the last person left on earth to play the bagpipes on Robbie Burns’ birthday.