Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Award-season, ’tis ‘pun ‘s. Or something. I’m bad at old-talk. What’s much more interesting is that the The Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award Shortlist has been announced*. And the nominee list is once again illustrous**:

  • 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

*Also, best reaction to the nomination ever:

“Frankly we would have been offended if he wasn’t shortlisted,” said Anna Frame at [Nick Cave’s] publisher Canongate.

**I don’t know if I should be offended or honoured that there’s only one woman on this list…

As I did last year, I’ll walk you through the availaible excerpts, bookbitching style. [Crossposted.]

Disclaimer: I haven’t read any of the books, so if some things aren’t as weird in context, I won’t know.

The Humbling by Philip Roth

[Before I get into this, let me say that I’m absolutely disgusted at the overall “elderly Gary Stu converts lesbian to heterosexuality” plot and that Philip Roth should be completely shunned for that. Ergo, my commentary goes less in the humorous direction and more in the feminist theory direction.]

“He had let Pegeen appoint herself ringmaster and would not participate until summoned. He would watch without interfering. First Pegeen stepped into the contraption, adjusted and secured the leather straps, and affixed the dildo so that it jutted straight out. [Well, strapping on a dildo for the purpose of having sex with another person and pointing it inwards defeats said purpose, doesn’t it?] Then she crouched above Tracy, brushing Tracy’s lips and nipples with her mouth and fondling her breasts, and then she slid down a ways [where to?] and gently penetrated Tracy with the dildo. Pegeen did not have to force her open. [Well, I do hope so. Since I’m assuming that Tracy isn’t a stubborn shell fish or pistacchio, forcing her open shouldn’t even be an option.] She did not have to say a word – he imagined that if either one of them did begin to speak, it would be in a language unrecognizable to him. [OH NOES! IT’S LESBIAN SEX! IT’S COMPLETELY ALIEN!] The green cock plunged in and out of the abundant naked body sprawled beneath it, slow at first, then faster and harder, then harder still, and all of Tracy’s curves and hollows moved in unison with it. [Her curves and her hollows? Well, I’d like to see her curves and hollows moving seperately, one in unison, one not. Although… never mind, I really don’t want to see that.] This was not soft porn. [REALLY?!?!?!!!!eleventy!!!111!!!] This was no longer two unclothed women caressing and kissing on a bed. [It wasn’t? What happened?] There was something primitive about it now, this woman-on-woman violence, [Did I miss something? When did this turn violent?] as though, in the room filled with shadows, Pegeen were a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal. [Huh?] 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. [She’s not wearing a mask, she’s wearing a dildo. You want to cover that you’re getting your rocks off by pseudo-philosophical babble? Don’t.] She could as well have been a crow or a coyote, while simultaneously Pegeen Mike. [Because being female is entirely dependent on having a vagina, not a penis. Mr. Roth, please let me introduce you to Ms. Butler.] There was something dangerous about it. His heart thumped with excitement – the god Pan looking on from a distance with his spying, lascivious gaze. [Did you really just compare Gary Stu to a god? Oh dear me…]

“It was English that Pegeen spoke when she looked over from where she was, [*gasp* What do you mean English? It wasn’t Lesbian?] now resting on her back beside Tracy, combing the little black cat-o’-nine-tails through Tracy’s long hair, and, with that kid-like smile [Oh yeah, I always think of the people I just slept with (or saw having sex with somebody else) as kids. Totally turns me on.] that showed her two front teeth, said to him softly, “Your turn. Defile her.” [Excuse me? Since when does P. get to decide whose turn it was to fuck T. (or anybody else except P. for that matter)? And seriously, “defile” her?] She took Tracy by one shoulder, whispered “Time to change masters,” and gently rolled the stranger’s large, warm body toward his. [I must wonder whether Tracy might be a blow up doll. She doesn’t get to talk, she doesn’t get to move, she doesn’t get to decide… But I guess that that’s just the way it goes, since she’s the woman here (at least until P. takes of the dildo and becomes female again) and everybody knows that women don’t ever move during sex, much less have a sexual agenda.] “Three children got together,” [Will you lay off the children references? I can deal with (almost) anything in the bedroom, but children? Sorry, no.] he said, “and decided to put on a play,” whereupon his performance began.” [*dnk* (What you just read was the sound of my head hitting the table.)]

The Infinities by John Banville

“Alba has stepped out of her dress in one flowing, stylised movement, [a stylised movement? Awesome… How does that work again? Ah, yes…] like a torero, [… you pull the dress over your head, then circle it once or twice over your head and finally, you hold it out on your side.] the object of all eyes, trailing his cape in the dust before the baffled bull; underneath, she is naked. [And the winner of most abrupt ending of a metaphor is…] She looks to the side, downwards; [where?] her eyelids are so shinily pale and fine that Adam can see clearly all the tiny veins in them, blue as lapis. He takes a floating step [Gah! He’s a vampire who can FLY! Or probably a ghost!] forward until his chest is barely touching the tips of her nipples, behind which he senses all the gravid tremulousness of her breasts. [Her breasts are behind her nipples? Exactly how big are her nipples? Or how small her breasts?] She puts her hands flat against his chest and leans into him in a simulacrum of a swoon, [Dear John Banville, I just wanted to inform you that we have completely different mental pictures of a swoon. Signed, kalafudra.] making a mewling sound. [So, she undresses, looks downwards somewhere (probably to inspect the carpet), leans into him and then mewls? Why, for the love of logic, why?] Her hips are goosefleshed and he can feel all the tiny hairs erect on her forearms. When he kisses her hot, soft mouth, which is bruised a little at one corner, [Why? I mean, not only why is it bruised (I’m guessing I’d know had I read more than just this excerpt), but why mention it here?] he knows at once that she has been with another man, and recently – faint as it is there is no mistaking that tang of fish-slime and sawdust [Oh, sexy sex sex… whenever I think of fish-slime, I orgasm immediately.] – for he has no doubt that this is the mouth of a busy working girl. [SHE’S BEEN WITH ANOTHER MAN! THAT WHORE!] He does not mind.

“They conduct there, on that white bed, under the rubied iron cross, a fair imitation of a passionate dalliance, [only an imitation? Are they shooting a movie or what?] a repeated toing and froing on the edge of a precipice beyond which can be glimpsed a dark-green distance in a reeking mist and something shining out at them, a pulsing point of light, peremptory and intense. [What the hell is he talking about? Seriously, does anybody know?] His heart rattles in its cage, a vein beats at his temple like a slow tom-tom. [Do you need medical attendance?] When they are spent at last, and that beacon in the jungle has been turned low again, [a beacon in the jungle? Is that the new train coming out of a tunnel?] they lie together contentedly in a tangle of arms and legs and talk of this and that, in their own languages, each understanding hardly a word of what the other says.” [What is it with sex and its (supposedly) affecting the language center in the brain?]

Rhyming Life and Death by Amos Oz

“Almost in an instant his desire rises to a level where the pressure to reach a climax stalls and gives way to a sort of sensitive physical alertness, pleased with its own sexual generosity, that gets a kick out of giving her thrill after thrill and postponing his own satisfaction, feeling to see how he can give her more and more pleasure, until she cannot take any more. [So, he reaches a point where he’s so selfless that he cares more about his sexual partner than himself, but actually, he cares more about her because it turns him on more? I’m so confused.] And so, in complete self-denial – in every sense – [in every sense? really? Denying his own existence, for example?] with his fingers, now experienced and even inspired, he starts to steer her enjoyment like a ship towards its home port, to the deepest anchorage, right to the core of her pleasure. [People, people, people… you wanna use a metaphor? Then stick to it. Her enjoyment is a ship. Okay. Bringing the ship home = orgasm. Okay. The deepest anchorage would therefore be the exact opposite of orgasm, right? So, I’d say that would be frigidity. It’s kind of a stretch that his fingers would make her more aroused and more frigid at the same time, but hell, fingers might have done weirder things. But where in this metaphor does the core of her pleasure fit? Which ship sails to the core of pleasure (and how the hell do I get on it?)]

“Attentive to the very faintest of signals, like some piece of sonar equipment [I feel so sexy… just like that sonar equipment. Rawr!] that can detect sounds in the deep imperceptible to the human ear, he registers the flow of tiny moans that rise from inside her as he continues to excite her, receiving and unconsciously classifying the fine nuances that differentiate one moan from another, [next, we will get to hear about how he not only reads her vocal communication, but also her facial expressions! Stay tuned as we discover the importance of eyebrows!] in his skin rather than in his ears he feels the minute variations in her breathing, he feels the ripples in her skin, as though he has been transformed into a delicate seismograph [wow… he’s getting really hardcore now. I mean, seismographs are to sonar equipment what porn is to cable TV.] that intercepts and instantly deciphers her body’s reactions, translating what he has discovered into skilful, precise navigation, anticipating and cautiously avoiding every sandbank, steering clear of each underwater reef, [Oh! We’re back on the ship! Heading towards Port Pleasure!] smoothing any roughness [and we’re off the ship again.] except that slow roughness [what the huh?] that comes and goes and comes and turns and goes and comes and strokes and goes and makes her whole body quiver. Meanwhile her moaning has turned into little sobs and sighs and cries of surprise, [Surprise? Has she never orgasmed before?] and suddenly his lips tell him that her cheeks are covered in tears. Every sound, every breath or shudder, every wave passing over her skin, [Maybe they are in water and that’s where the ship metaphor comes from…] helps his fingers on their artful way to steer her home.” [Please take note: he not only steers her home (I thought her enjoyment was the ship, not she herself?), he does so artfully.]

The Naked Name of Love by Sanjida O’Connell

“This time her body felt real to him, not fragments from a dream, or a surreal hallucination, [which makes me immediately wonder what happened before in this book.] but there was a certain clumsiness, an awkwardness on his part as if it were the first time for him now that he was bereft of the herb that made him feel how she felt. [Oh, goody, spiritual drugs.] They were not in tune and it was as if he were splashing about helplessly on the shore of some great ocean, [what it is with the ocean and sex?] waiting for a current, or the right swimming stroke to sweep him effortlessly out to sea. He felt they were lacking some vital ingredient; [arousal? eroticism? attraction?] she was only partly engaged, the building explosion of sensation that had made her unfurl like a flower, a morning glory greeting the sun, was missing. [How I wish I knew what was going on here.] He stopped.

“What is it? she asked.

“You, he said. I’ve lost you, he whispered.

“She smiled, wide-eyed, lithe as a cat, she twisted her body, took his hand and showed him what to do; [Random guy, meet clitoris. Clitoris, meet random guy.] he felt her breath hot against his throat, her pulse quicken, limbs grow taut. He was hanging in deep green water, waves breaking against him, the clean sweep of the shore attainable in a few slow strokes.” [Didn’t he just try to get into the sea? Now he’s heading towards the shore? No wonder she has to show him what to do…]

A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta by Paul Theroux

“‘Baby.’ She took my head in both hands and guided it downward, between her fragrant thighs. [I wonder what fragrance she uses…] ‘Yoni puja – pray, pray at my portal.’ [rofl] [No, sorry, I wasn’t done. lmao] [lol]

“She was holding my head, murmuring ‘Pray,’ and I did so, beseeching her with my mouth and tongue, my licking a primitive form of language in a simple prayer. [I’m running out of acronyms to properly describe how amused I am by this metaphor. And how seriously the author apparently takes it.] It had always worked before, a language she had taught me herself, the warm muffled tongue.” [She, the warm muffled tongue? I, the warm muffled tongue? What does muffled mean anyway? And why do I get the picture of something furry when I read that word?]

The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave

“He slips his hands under her cotton vest and her body spasms and slackens and he cups her small, cold breasts in his hands [cold breasts? Is her cotten vest not warm enough or is she dead?] and feels the hard pearls of her nipples, like tiny secrets, [Her nipples are secrets? But I thought everybody had them!] against the barked palms of his hands. He feels the gradual winding down of her dying heart [eeek! She’s really dead! I was only joking before!] and can see a bluish tinge blossoming on the skin of her skull through her thin, ironed hair. [Is he throttling her by way of her breasts instead of her throat?]

“‘Oh, my dear Avril,’ he says.

“He puts his hands under her knees and manoeuvres her carefully so that her bottom rests on the edge of the settee. He slips his fingers underneath the worn elastic of her panties that are strung across the points of her hips, slips them to her ankles and softly draws apart her knees [This reads a little bit like a lego manual or a description of how to build an Ikea wardrobe.] and feels again a watery ardour [Isn’t ardour usually fiery?] in his eyes as he negotiates a button and a zipper. It is exactly as he imagined it – the hair, the lips, the hole – and he slips his hands under her wasted buttocks and enters her like a fucking pile driver.” [If it wasn’t for the word “fucking” here, this passage would be merely bad. As the fucking is there, it’s extraordinarily abysmal and crosses into the so bad it’s good territory. Try reading the sentence with and without the fucking – you’ll see what I mean.]

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

“Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair. She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn’t even bother to lower her panties, just pushed the lace to one side and spread her buttocks with both hands: in the slit, nestling in hair, her anus gently contracted. I spit on it. [So far, actually, it’s not that bad – kinky, yes, but not badly written and then he goes and does this:] ‘No,’ she protested. [Hello rape! How come you made your way once again into the bad sex awards? It seems people still think that rape and sex are the same…] I took out my penis, lay on top of her, and thrust it in. She gave a long stifled cry. I was crushing her with all my weight; because of the awkward position – my trousers were hindering my legs – I could only move in little jerks. Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: ‘I’m going to pull the lever, I’m going to let the blade drop.’ She begged me: ‘Please, fuck my pussy.’ – ‘No.’ [So far, though it’s disgusting (the fact that it’s a rape being sold as sex, not the kink itself), it’s still not that badly written. But then:] I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg. [Ewwwww. Seriously, guys, does an orgasm feel like that for you? If so, why would you want to experience that?]

The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

“‘What are you thinking?’

“‘I’m thinking … of all the things I’d like to do to you.’

“Pressing her down so that she lay lengthways on the sofa, he unbuttoned her coat, but didn’t remove it. He felt her body’s warmth through the layers of clothes; slowly, he unbuttoned the woollen cardigan she was wearing; he kissed her stomach through the silk blouse underneath, and the sweet embroidered vest beneath that. [Holy shit, how many layers is that woman wearing? And do we really need to hear about all of them?] Then he pushed these back too so that he could taste the pale skin, and felt her trembling against his mouth. His hands caressed the sharp jut of her hip bones, and fingered the buttons at the side of her skirt which he anticipated trouble with, unless … [unless what? You have time to anticipate a problem but not tell us the solution?] He had the sensation of journeying through veils, [I wonder if he’s in the Total Eclipse of the Heart video.] of a headlong descent towards disclosure, and the prospect of pausing to fiddle with more buttons was not to be borne. [So, you’re still reflecting on her buttons? THIS IS A SEX SCENE! GET TO IT!!!] Her breathing had become shallower, and her face was turned distractedly to one side. His head had drawn level with her lap, and as he lifted up her skirt he recalled an image of Bella at Slater Street casually flipping back the dark hood from her camera and removing the plate. [What?] Feeling the snaps and entanglements of her underclothes as a delay to his progress, [If you’d stop thinking about her clothes being a hindrance, you could get started on undressing her, couldn’t you?] he placed a kiss, quite reverently, on the ivory-coloured sheath of her pants; through the material he traced smooth skin, then the wiry tussock below. The thin silk felt like water purling through his fingers. His hands squirmed beneath the cool curve of her buttocks and stroked the dimple at the base of her spine. [I don’t think I was ever this bored during a sex scene…] Then he dipped his head lower until his mouth grazed the tip of the inverted white triangle [Why is it inverted? And why do I even care about that?] that ended between her legs; he brought a hand around and, parting her legs slightly wider, allowed his finger to draw back the pouched silk. It felt to him as if he were tending a delicate weeping wound, [This year it’s weeping wounds, last year it was weeping orifices… I get it. She’s wet. But I sure as hell hope that nobody and nothing is weeping.] and as he probed it with his tongue he heard her moan quietly. Excited by the oysterish intricacy [her oysterish… roflmao] of her he sucked and licked the salty folds until they became sweet, [how the hell did he do that? And does that work with men, too?] and slowly she arched her back to heighten the angle of provocation. [The angle of provocation? What’s that’s supposed to mean?] As her gasps grew more urgent he glanced upwards and saw her face almost angrily flushed and straining, his mouth now breathing in the wetness of her until, with an agonised cry, she stiffened and shuddered down the length of her torso.” [This sounds more like she kind of shudders around and downwards her body, not that her body shudders… Kind of like using one of those sliding poles, except that the pole is her body.]

Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy

“My mouth lingered on hers; I tasted her. I felt for her tongue with mine. I felt the blood surging through my body. [Yeah… I remember when I could feel my blood all day… it was so distracting. I could never get anything done, really, because there were these continuous waves in my body I couldn’t blend out. And then I discovered the amazing anti-sentisising operation and it changed my life. Now, I’m not even aware of my blood at all and of my heart only on special occasions. It’s great!] We pressed against one another.

“Impossibly close.

“She gripped my arms. Her nails tore into me. [Ouch?] Soon we both were burning.
[Ouch??] “Sweat pooled in the ridge of my back as I moved like a tide determined to crash against those ancient rocks. [And here we are with the ocean metaphor again. Fascinating.]

“Then – a moment before  [what?] – inside, I kept very still. Our bodies moved of their own accord. [Are you still or are you moving?] Hannah’s body was swallowing, digesting all that was mine to give. For those final moments [Oh goodness, are you dying?], we existed seamlessly – all memory negated by a desire that both belonged to us and controlled us. [What does negated memory have to do with seamless existence?]
After, we kept very still, like the only two roots of the forest.” [Honey, you have a problem. No, two: First: Movement and stillness are two seperate things. You should try to find out the difference when you have the time. Second: You should really get a grip on your metaphors… I want to see the forest with only two roots.]

Ten Storey Love Song by Richard Milward

Let’s have sex, they think simultaneously, couples having strange mind-reading powers after months and months of trying to figure each other out. [DANG! Really? Does the metaphysical association know about this? Or at least, Scientology?] Panting, Georgie starts rubbing her hands round Bobby’s biological erogenous zones, [lolololololololololol…. I may never say groin or penis or dick or cock or anything else ever again… I will now refer to it only as “biological erogenous zone”.] turning his trousers into a tent with lots of rude organs camping underneath. [Okay, seriously, I’m laughing so hard I have tears in my eyes right now. Richard Milward, you evil comic genius.] Bobby sucks all the freckles and moles off her chest, pulling the GD bib wheeeeeeeeeee [what was that?] over her head and flicking Georgie’s turquoise bra off her shoulders then kissing her tits, and he’s got so much energy – plus he’s very impatient – Bobby tugs off his sweaty sweater [mmmhhh sexy…] himself and gives Georgie a helping hand with his zip. Then comes the enormous anticipation of someone putting their mitts on your cock and balls. [Seriously? Nah, you aren’t. Are you?] Georgie smiles to herself and keeps him hanging on for a bit, which in a way is even better though it makes the Artist [whoa, where did the Artist come from?] want to explode and after one or two tugs he moans ‘whoah’ then screams ‘whoah!’ and Georgie lets go giggling, then suddenly her face is all serious and Bobby pulls her polished pine legs apart [pine legs? Oh no, sweety! What happened, how did you lose your real legs?] and slithers a hand up her skirt where her fanny’s got a bit of five o’clock shadow [oh jesus!] like a pin cushion but her lips are nice and slippy, and he slides some lubricunt [Ha!] round and round, mixing clockwise with anticlockwise with figure 8 until Georgie’s shagging the air [Isn’t she shagging him?] with pleasure bashing her feet about. Then, Bobby starts scrabbling frantically across the carpet for Mr Condom, sending five or six multicolour Durexes flying through the air, and he struggles getting the packet open and Georgie has to roll Mr Condom down Mr Penis for him and she has to help insert him into Mrs Vagina.” [Okay, Mr. Milward, you have just sold your book. Nobody can write this much crap and be serious and in any case – this might just be the comedy of the year.]

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One Response

  1. […] As I did last year, I’ll walk you through the availaible excerpts, bookbitching style. [Crossposted.] […]

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