Bad Sex Is Good For Us All

The SlapBefore I kick off this post, I need to issue the disclaimer that it acknowledges the existence of sex and, while not graphic, does quote some rather lame and comical descriptions of it. It may not be suitable reading for little people, people unaware of sex’s existence, or people who wish they were unaware of sex’s existence.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to celebrate the fact that the 2010 Bad Sex in Fiction Award—aka ‘Britain’s most dreaded literary prize’—has been announced. It’s the award that both makes us chuckle and reminds us that even the best writers don’t always get it right. In short, bad sex is good for us all.

2010 winner Irish author Rowan Somerville scored the dubious honour this year, the 18th inaugural awarding of the prize, for such passages of text from The Shape of Her that: likened a nipple to the upturned ‘nose of the loveliest nocturnal animal, sniffing in the night’; and the almost indecipherable ‘Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her’. Yep, the latter one’s so odd I’m not sure I want to look lepidopterist in the dictionary.

Other 2010 nominees were the esteemed Jonathan Franzen (for sex scenes from Freedom, the masterpiece everyone’s hailing as the best book that’s ever been written and that ever will be), Alistair Campbell (best known for being Tony Blair’s former spokesman), and Australia’s own Christos Tsiolkas (for—you guessed it—The Slap).

The Shape Of HerI won’t go into the myriad reasons why I disliked The Slap (if you’re keen to find out, you can check out my previous blog entry), but I was overjoyed that someone with the power to bestow or remove critical acclaim was finally on my not-liking-the-book side. One of the judges, Jonathan Beckman, reportedly told The Guardian that The Slap was nominated partly because of the sheer volume [and relentless, boringness] of sex it contained. Dubbing it ‘repetitive’, he noted how two characters ‘f—ed for ages’ is ‘just one example of slack writing’. Youch but so, so, incredibly, I-told-you-so true.

Dreamed up and set up by the late Literary Review editor Auberon Waugh ‘to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it’, the Bad Sex Awards also serve a secondary, albeit unintentional, purpose for the writers and aspiring writers among us. That is, to send the clear message that no writer is perfect and that, even after years of experience and after having their work gone over by the best editors in the world, clunkers make it through.

Somerville is in esteemed company, with the award having been previously won by the likes of Tom FreedomWolfe and Norman Mailer, and was gracious in his acceptance of the award. Film director Michael Winner, who presented the award to Somerville, said that he avoided sex in his own books because, ‘as we all know, sex starts with a joke and ends in tragedy’. I’d say that it starts with a joke and ends in comedy, because as Somerville said in his victory speech, ‘There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the entire nation I would like to thank you.’ Indeed, I think bad sex is good for us all and for simply nominating The Slap, Bad Sex Awards, I want to thank you.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.