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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Britain's most dreaded literary prize

I had never heard of it until The Guardian published the news this morning.

But Britain has a prize for the most awful sex scene in a novel.

Describing itself as “Britain’s most dreaded literary prize”, the Literary Review’s Bad sex in fiction award has unveiled this year’s shortlist, which ranges from Elizabeth Gilbert, the bestselling author of Eat Pray Love, to the acclaimed French novelist Didier Decoin.
Dreamed up in 1993 by the Literary Review’s the editor Auberon Waugh and critic Rhoda Koenig, the award is for “the year’s most outstandingly awful scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel”. It is intended to draw attention to “the poorly written, redundant, or downright cringeworthy passages of sexual description in modern fiction”.

And here are the passages chosen for their sheer awfulness (parental guidance recommended).

The River Capture by Mary Costello
He clung to her, crying, and then made love to her and went far inside her and she begged him to go deeper and, no longer afraid of injuring her, he went deep in mind and body, among crowded organ cavities, past the contours of her lungs and liver, and, shimmying past her heart, he felt her perfection.
The Office of Gardens and Ponds by Didier Decoin
The earthy taste surprised her. When he was alive, when it swelled inside Miyuki’s mouth, Katsuro’s penis had tasted of raw fish, of warm young bamboo shoots, and of fresh almonds when she finally released its juices. Now it was insipid and muddy to her tongue, like the pools of the temples of Heian Kyō when the Office of Gardens and Ponds had them drained for cleaning.
Miyuki had loved this man. Not that he was a very good lover – but what did she know, after all, since she had experienced no one but him? He used to upset her by the way he silently loomed up behind her and took her by the shoulders, his nails scratching her flesh, his strong breath enveloping her neck, a smell of ripe fruit and poorly tanned leather, his knee pushing against her lower back to open her tunic and expose a portion of naked flesh against which he would then rub his organ as if he were furtively making omelette rolls. He did not derive his pleasure without her, but in front of her, and differently.
Pax by John Harvey
She gave a yet deeper, moaning sigh. Like breathing in he saw the word he had said shiver and expand inside her. Her arms moved now, and flexed: out of here, Venus de Milo. He watched the death-life fill her growingly. She grabbed and caressed him with more muscle, more zest, than ever before. Her long lean arms were spider arms, while her kisses roved and dug.
‘I see it,’ he said. ‘You are the female praying mantis, devouring her mate.’
‘I am. You are. I shall eat every shred of you.’
‘Mouthful by mouthful.’
‘Exactly. Ah. But boy, you taste good.’ She licked her lips, and pulled him close, but now he was clasping too. It was a kind of slow wrestling, they were knitting each other into a loose slipping knot. He was upside down over her, loving her bush and lick-kissing like eating her inner thighs. Till at last they loved fully and later lay back. She did not chatter. Their arms stirred in a luxurious desultory twining.
The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith
The actual lovemaking was a series of cryptic clues and concealed pleasures. A sensual treasure hunt. She asked for something, then changed her mind. He made adjustments and calibrations, awaited further instruction.
For most of the proceedings he felt his own desire as if it were tethered to a wire, a bright red balloon floating in his peripheral vision, but eventually he burst through. It was toward the end, as their breathing quickened. Her stage directions had stalled out into silence. He looked to his right and noticed the scene in the smoky lens of the mirror above the bureau, saw his own body move with the steady rhythm of a bellows blowing air at the base of a fire. It brought back the early experiments at the photographic society in Paris, the wiring of a bird’s feet to a cameragun, the mounting tension and uplift before a surge of exasperated flight. His own face looking back in the mirror – open-mouthed, flushed, euphoric – was a wild, strange thing to him. A beguiled stranger he’d never met, held in place by an infinite loop. Then his eyes locked on Sabine’s in the mirror and he could see that she was pleased with her staging, with her hair fanning across the pillow, with the way her ankles locked about his calves so that her long white feet formed a perfect V. And it was the act of looking back at the filmstrip juddering above the bureau that sent her into a final boisterous delirium. She bit his shoulder, then whispered into the mirror, Nous voilà, catching her breath, There we are.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

There was a sensation occurring here that I didn’t even know could occur. I took the sharpest inhale of my life, and I’m not sure I let my breath out for another 10 minutes. I do feel that I lost the ability to see and hear for a while, and that something might have short-circuited in my brain – something that has probably never been fully fixed since. My whole being was astonished. I could hear myself making noises like an animal, and my legs were shaking uncontrollably (not that I was trying to control them), and my hands were gripping down so hard over my face that I left fingernail divots in my own skull.
Then it became more.
And after that, it became even more still.
Then I screamed as though I were being run over by a train, and that long arm of his was reaching up again to palm my mouth, and I bit into his hand the way a wounded soldier bites on a bullet.
And then it was the most, and I more or less died.
Oh dear, oh dear.  I wonder what they were drinking when they wrote it.

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