The award is given to authors who have “produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel”, according to judges. 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.
Judging is currently underway – with the winner announced on Monday, 2 December 2019.
The shortlist features The River Capture by Mary Costello, The Office of Gardens and Ponds by Didier Decoin, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, Pax by John Harvey and The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith. You can read extracts of all the shortlisted books here.
In its time, the Bad Sex awards have claimed a number of high-profile scalps, including Sebastian Faulks, Tom Wolfe, and Morrissey. This year’s shortlist is no different, with Decoin a former winner of France’s most presitgious literary award, the Prix Goncourt, and Gilbert the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, which sold over 12 million copies.
There were also a number of high-profile names from the literary world who only just missed out on the 2019 Bad Sex in Fiction award shortlist. Judges singled out Jeanette Winterson, for her book, Frankissstein, an Michel Houellebecq, for his work Serotonin.
Houellebecq came particularly close, with lines such as:
“She would have waited until we were in the water … to offer her moist parts to my triumphant phallus.”
Ultimately, however, the judges considered the sex scenes in Serotonin to be of a piece with the novel’s overall tone.
Last year the prize was won by James Frey for Katerina (John Murray). The award was presented by pop star Kim Wilde.
Frey joined a long-list of authors stretching back to 1993 to have received the award (all of which you can read via our connoisseur’s compendium). Some writers have reacted with good humour to receiving the award; while others, including Morrissey, reacted with fury, describing it as a “repulsive horror”.
The winner of this year’s award will be announced at a lavish ceremony at the Naval & Military Club (In & Out), 4 St James’s Square, London W1.