Brace Yourself For Some Bad Sex

Nov 20, 2009 • Books, Culture


This was not soft porn. This was no longer two unclothed women caressing and kissing on a bed. There was something primitive about it now, this woman-on-woman violence, as though in the room filled with shadows, Pegeen were a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal. It was as if she were wearing a mask on her genitals, a weird totem mask, that made her into what she was not and was not supposed to be. There was something dangerous about it. His heart thumped with excitement – the god Pan looking on from a distance with his spying, lascivious gaze.

Phillip Roth, The Humbling

For the past 17 years, the Literary Review magazine awards authors for “rude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel.”

Unsurprisingly, Philip Roth’s totem threesome has landed him on the shortlist this year–but he’s in good company.

Nick Cave made the list with his The Death of Bunny Munro, about a nymphomaniacal door-to-door salesman (“He is naked and his clothes sit in sad, little heaps on the living room floor.”). Sanjida O’Connell, the only woman to make it, was chosen for The Naked Name of Love, about a young Jesuit priest who learns to love with a mystical shaman woman in the steppes of Mongolia (“Her skin was smooth and she felt sleekly muscled, like a dolphin might…”). Simon Van Booy’s collection of little love stories Love Begins in Winter, offered this gem: “After, we kept very still, like the only two roots of the forest.” Acclaimed Israeli novelist Amos Oz joined the list with Rhyming Life and Death: “He feels the ripples in her skin, as though he has been transformed into a delicate seismograph that intercepts and instantly deciphers her body’s reactions.”

Here’s the shortlist:

John Banville for The Infinities
Nick Cave for The Death of Bunny Munro
Jonathan Littell for The Kindly Ones
Richard Milward for Ten Storey Love Song
Sanjida O’Connell for The Naked Name of Love
Amos Oz for Rhyming Life and Death
Anthony Quinn for The Rescue Man
Philip Roth for The Humbling
Paul Theroux for A Dead Hand
Simon Van Booy for Love Begins in Winter

Image via The Stranger. Information via The Guardian UK.

  • Gwendolyn Hudson Lauternach

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve always loved these awards. Sex scenes are difficult–either delights beyond words (except for some godawful similes & metaphors)sort of things or an insert A into B that reads like Ikea directions for putting together your new bookcase. Though I still think one of my absolute Hall of Fame descriptions is “his throbbing man root.”

    I started to say it would be difficult to beat that but, ya know, not the best word choice….

  • Pingback: Sex Writing 101 | Sex and the 405()