Beware: The Bad Sex in Fiction finalists have been revealed
WARNING: ADULT THEMES
The following paragraphs contain unfortunate euphemisms, bad puns and poor descriptions of sexual encounters that may make you groan — and not in the good way!
Because the short-list for this year’s Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award has been released, and yikes, there is some horrific ‘between the sheets’ action between those pages.
Now I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I’ve enjoyed the odd naughty novel over the years, usually poolside on a tropical holiday, as an exercise in exploration, titillation and affirmation.
As for many women, the genre has been an empowering and safe, not to mention conveniently mobile, way for me to connect with my sexuality.
Even as a 14-year-old, Judy Blume’s Forever, gave me and my girlfriends, huddled in stifled giggles at the back of the computer lab, valuable understanding of a healthy sexual relationship. I couldn’t say I learned much about the Apple Macintosh, but why would I when there was a much more interesting floppy disk in Chapter 12?
But over the years, appalling writing has frequently distracted me from the kindle my Kindle should be kindling. I’m looking at you 50 Shades. “Christian Grey flavoured popsicle”? Blurgh.
I’m not offended by graphic sexual content, but mixed metaphors, clichéd similes or a descriptive as misguided as a kiss with too much tongue turns me right off.
Case in point is the Bad Sex in Fiction finalist, Morrissey. Yes, as in from The Smiths, as in, I am human and I need to be loved. But in this instance, not in any way like everybody else does, because his two-word description (in List of the Last) of shall we say, a soldier standing to attention, justifies his nomination.
Are you ready for it?
What? Thank God I have never been amorously greeted by such a thing because whether he means bulb as in the tulip or a Philips LED 40W, it just sounds so unpalatable. Bulbous? Has he got elephantitis? I’d thank him to keep his trunk to himself.
As Anastasia Steele would say “Oh my! Holy Cow!”. Picture: Universal Pictures / Focus FeaturesSource:Supplied
It gets worse though, and if you’re an avid reader of the genre you’ll recognise the themes. First, fruit and veg.
Erotic novelists are mad for anything you’d find in your local supermarket.
Finalist Lauren Groff (in Fates and Furies) was pretty predictable with her mangoes and split papayas, but she took it to the next level by wilting spinach on a steamy inner thigh during foreplay FROM THE HEAT OF HER SKIN. Obviously, I’m dubious about the science, but just in case, that’s the reason I’ve never dated vegetarians.
There are authors who take imagery to the nonsensical. Finalist Joshua Cohen (inBook of Numbers): “Her mouth was intensely ovoid”, meaning egg-shaped (thanks dictionary.com). Having read only a snippet of his book, I can only guess his hero is in a relationship with a sideshow clown.
Cohen also gives us another well-worn theme and my favourite entry for the Awards — descriptions of boobs as though they are sentient creatures. “Her breasts were like young fawns, sheep frolicking in hyssop”.
Seriously, Josh. Lay off the blue cheese — you are tripping! I appreciate that boobs can sometimes seem to a bloke mysterious and magical, but what in the hell is happening in your bed if breast tissue is flying around the place like farmyard animals? Unless you’re referring to the hairs around her nipples, in which case that’s just plain insensitive.
The difficult thing about writing for the arousal of others is not just that it is obviously subjective — you might love Body Pump, whereas I’m more of a Hot Box Yoga girl. It’s that, generally speaking, sex is just ugly.
Shakespeare described it as “the beast with two backs” for a reason — what feels so great can look like a genetic experiment gone wrong. (And yes, I just pulled that out of Year 12 English Lit from MEMORY, but if I met you, I’d probably forget your name in about 13 minutes).
So how do you get that great feeling out on to the page, when really what you want to describe is some Hollywood version of lovemaking that doesn’t exist?
No wonder millennials use emojis. You can say so much more with an eggplant and a peach.
The winner of this year’s award will be announced tomorrow, on Tuesday 1 December.