What Bookers and Bestsellers Have in Common: Bad Sex

In News by Dennis Abrams

Richard Flanagan shows off his 2014 Man Booker Prize. He might yet win another, less prestigious, award...

Richard Flanagan shows off his 2014 Man Booker Prize. He might yet win another, less prestigious, award…

Richard Flanagan and Haruki Murakami head the shortlist for the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

By Dennis Abrams

As reported in The Guardian, Richard Flanagan might have won the Booker this year for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but that work, called an “outstanding work of literature” might just win him another somewhat less prestigious award: the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction prize.

The passage cited by the Literary Review involves a sex act interrupted by a dog killing a fairy penguin. Yes. That’s right. A dog killing a fairy penguin:

“He kissed the slight, rose-coloured trench that remained from her knicker elastic, running around her belly like the equator line circling the world. As they lost themselves in the circumnavigation of each other, there came from nearby shrill shrieks that ended in a deeper howl. Dorrigo looked up. A large dog stood at the top of the dune. Above blood-jagged drool, its slobbery mouth clutched a twitching fairy penguin.”

Also included on the list are Haruki Murakami for his latest novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (which features a description of pubic hair “as wet as a rain forest”), Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen, Ben Okri’s The Age of Magic, and Wilbur Smith’s Desert God, which includes a passage about a woman’s long hair that “did not cover her breasts which thrust their way through it like living creatures. They were perfect rounds, white as mare’s milk and tipped with ruby nipples that puckered as my gaze passed over them.”

In addition to those well-known names, Kirsty Wark, a presenter on Newsnight, made the list with her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle. According to The Guardian, Andrew Marr’s Head of State was also under consideration, given lines like “they bucked like deer and squirmed like eels. And after that, vice versa,” but, alas, the novel “failed to sustain its early promise.” The remaining titles on the shortlist are Saskia Goldschimidt’s The Hormone Factory, Amy Grace Loyd’s The Affairs of Others, May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break, and Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove.

“I think this is one of the strongest shortlists in recent years, containing some real literary heavyweights,” said the magazine’s Jonathan Beckman. “Flanagan swaddles the encounter in so many abstract nouns that the whole experience becomes very obscure and desexualised. The Murakami seems weirdly frictionless, an opportunity for metaphor-making above anything else.”

The prize, described by the Literary Review itself as “Britain’s most dreaded,” has the goal of finding “the most egregious passage of sexual description in a work of fiction.” Created by Auberon Waugh in 1993, its stated purpose is to call attention to “perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual descriptions in modern fiction, and to discourage them.”

The list of previous winners includes such literary luminaries as Sebastian Faulks (Charlotte Gray), Tom Wolfe (I Am Charlotte Simmons), Norman Mailer (The Castle in the Forest), and last year’s winner Manil Suri (The City of Devi), which included this passage describing a threesome “set in a Mumubai under threat of nuclear war.”

“Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.”

This year’s winner will be announced on December 3rd.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.