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Bad Sex Award 2009


The shortlist for the 2009 Bad Sex Award

The shortlist for one of the more entertaining literary competitions of the year has just been announced. Run by the Literary Review, it features a number of established names, showing that a literary reputation is no guard against writing bad sex scenes. The shortlist, which features only one woman, is:

Paul Theroux for A Dead Hand

Nick Cave for The Death of Bunny Munro

Philip Roth for The Humbling

Jonathan Littell for The Kindly Ones

Amos Oz for Rhyming Life and Death

John Banville for The Infinities

Anthony Quinn for The Rescue Man

Simon Van Booy for Love Begins in Winter

Sanjida O'Connell for The Naked Name of Love

Richard Milward for Ten Storey Love Song

So what does bad sex look like?

The Pulitzer prize-winning Roth makes the line-up for The Humbling, in which the ageing actor Simon converts Pegeen, a lesbian, to heterosexuality. The Literary Review singled out a scene in which Simon and Pegeen pick up a girl from a bar and convince her to take part in a threesome:

'Simon looks on as Pegeen uses her green dildo to great effect. 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.'

Jonathan Beckman at the Literary Review said: 'Roth is very anxious about his description of sex. Why write of a scene that repeatedly features a green dildo, 'this was not soft porn', unless you're worried that it might be taken as such?’

Milward, who accepted the prize in 2007 on behalf of the late Norman Mailer, showed the right spirit by saying that he ‘would have been upset’ if he hadn't been shortlisted this year. ‘I've been there before and I'll be there again... There's so much bad sex in my book that this is a nice accolade,’ he said.