The Best Bad Sex in Fiction

Among the prestigious prizes being doled out this season, don't forget one of a somewhat less dignified nature: the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Last night at a bawdy ceremony at London's In and Out club (I'm not making this up), Rachel Johnson, the sister of London Mayor Boris Johnson, won the coveted "plaster foot" for her cringe-inducing descriptions of hanky-panky in Shire Hell.


But the real climax of the evening came when four-time nominee John Updike won a Lifetime Achievement Award. "Good sex or bad sex," the judges said, "he has kept us entertained for many years." The celebrated American novelist did not attend the ceremony.

AP quoted the magazine's deputy editor, Tom Fleming, saying, "All the passages this year are equally awful, but Rachel Johnson's struck us because of the mixture of cliche and euphemism. There were a couple of really bad animal metaphors in there."

"I'm not feeling remotely grumpy about it," Johnson told the Guardian. "I know that men with literary reputations to polish might find it insulting, but if you've had a book published in the year any attention is welcome, even if it's slightly dubious attention of this sort."

Tantalizingly, Shire Hell has not yet been published in the United States. But Touchstone (a division of Simon & Schuster) has plans to bring it out here next year.

The Bad Sex in Fiction prize was set up by Literary Review editor Auberon Waugh in 1993 "with the aim of gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels."

Here's a list of this year's finalists:

  • James Buchan, The Gate of Air
  • Simon Montefiore, Sashenka
  • John Updike, The Widows of Eastwick
  • Kathy Lette, To Love, Honour and Betray
  • Alastair Campbell, All in the Mind
  • Rachel Johnson, Shire Hell
  • Isabel Fonseca, Attachment
  • Ann Allestree, Triptych of a Young Wolf
  • Russell Banks, The Reserve
  • Paulo Coelho, Brida

Last year, the award was given posthumously to Norman Mailer for his bizarre novel about Hitler's childhood, The Castle in the Forest.

Read any particularly awful sex scenes in serious fiction this year? Do tell....

By Ron Charles |  November 26, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Ron Charles
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