The Literary Review have published their six-author shortlist for their world-famous annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award, which honours those authors who have produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel. The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.
While the 2015 award was won by Morrissey – who joined a list of winners stretching back to 1993 – this year’s shortlist offers some stiff (word usage intended) competition for the prize.
Ian McEwan received an honorary mention, but just missed out on making the final shortlist. Former Blue Peter presenter, Janet Ellis, joins authors Tom Connolly, Ethan Canin, Robert Seethaler, Gayle Forman, and Erri De Luca on this year’s shortlist.
This year’s winner promises to be a tough one to call, with each of the authors showcasing exactly what not to do when it comes to writing about sex.
A spokesperson for the judges said that some of the nominated extracts “fall into the classic bad sex mistake of overwriting, with mixed metaphors, uncomfortable similes, or becoming so hyperbolic they strain credulity”.
Unintentional Madonna references put American novelist Gayle Forman on the judge’s list, while European prize for literature winner Erri de Luca makes the grade for a startlingly confusing sex scene, in which de Luca writes “my whole body had gone inside her.” One of the judges found the passage so confusing they said: “the detail of what’s happening gets so out of control it’s very hard to make head or tail of it.”
Tom Connolly, meanwhile, finds his name on the list thanks to a description of perfunctory airport sex: “He watched her passport rise gradually out of the back pocket of her jeans in time with the rhythmic bobbing of her buttocks as she sucked him. He arched over her back and took hold of the passport before it landed on the pimpled floor. Despite the immediate circumstances, human nature obliged him to take a look at her passport photo.”
The judges noted that, during Connolly’s sex scenes, it becomes apparent that the author’s grasp of human anatomy: “The judges were struck by the incredible length of the male character’s arms. Sometimes anatomy goes a little bit wrong for a writer who’s trying to do too many things at once,” he said.
Robert Seethaler is on the list for a sex scene that “takes itself too seriously”, according to a Literary Review spokesperson. Meanwhile, Ethan Canin is in the running for the dubious honour of the prize for overwriting and a heavy use of similes. In his book, Canin writes: “During sex she would be quiet, moving suddenly on top of him like a lion over its prey … The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors.”
Former Blue Peter presenter Ellis completes the shortlist after the panel of five judges singled her book out for a surprisingly agricultural passage:
“‘Anne,’ he says, stopping and looking down at me. I am pinned like wet washing with his peg. ‘Till now, I thought the sweetest sound I could ever hear was cows chewing grass. But this is better.’ He sways and we listen to the soft suck at the exact place we meet. Then I move and put all thoughts of livestock out of his head.”
You can read a full list of extracts from all the shortlisted writers and novels right here on Nothing in the Rulebook.
This year’s winner will be announced on the 30 November. Keep a keen eye for news on who will be added to our fully comprehensive list of all the previous Bad Sex in Fiction award winners.