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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

You don't actually have to be a Booker winner to write bad sex, but it helps

Following the announcement of the winner of the 17th annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award, Tom Geoghegan asks in the BBC News Magazine whether sex in books really does have to be so bad - and whether it helps to be an acclaimed literary novelist.

Singer turned author Nick Cave, Booker winner John Banville and novelist Philip Roth were all shortlisted for this year's award, which was won by Jonathan Littell (pictured, looking wry), for his novel The Kindly Ones.

Littell's book, originally published in French (what else?), won the Prix Goncourt in 2006. It has also sold over a million copies - but not, apparently, for the glowing, inspirational sex scenes.

Judges at the Literary Review gave Littell the prize for a passage that begins, "This sex was watching at me, spying on me, like a Gorgon's head." (Was something lost in translation, perhaps?) He also describes an energetic act as "a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg."

The Literary Review hopes that the author will take the dishonor in "good humor." Who can tell? The award has been accepted by his agent, but Littell is yet to comment.

The magazine story, which explores the reasons why writers write about sex so badly, includes lots of quotes. The one I like the best, however, is a comment from a reader, Edward James, of Southport, who says:

"Thank you for thrusting the rapier of enquiry into the delicate flower of this subject."

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