The Dim-Post

November 28, 2008

Bad Sex Writing

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 6:21 am

Rachael Johnson has won this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction award. John Updike wins the lifetime acheivement award:

Updike, famous for his close attention to sex, was shortlisted this year for his novel The Widows of Eastwick, in which an abundance of sperm greets the performance of oral sex. “She said nothing then, her lovely mouth otherwise engaged, until he came, all over her face. She had gagged, and moved him outside her lips, rubbing his spurting glans across her cheeks and chin,” he writes. “God, she was antique, but here they were. Her face gleamed with his jism in the spotty light of the motel room, there on the far end of East Beach, within sound of the sea.”

Alastair Campbell failed to get past the judges’ first post with his debut novel All in the Mind, as did fellow shortlistees Kathy Lette, James Buchan, Simon Montefiore and Isabel Fonseca.

Johnson praised the award for discouraging authors from using “awful phrases” such as last year’s winner Norman Mailer’s “soft as a coil of excrement” description of a penis. “The truth is that anyone who writes sex scenes has [the award] at the back of their mind,” she said. “It makes you even more self-conscious when you’re lubricating your book with sex.”

While vowing to attempt to emulate Updike’s achievement – “he sets the bar very high” – Johnson admitted that, as yet, her new novel is so far devoid of sexual content.

She is the 16th winner of the award, established by Auberon Waugh to “gently dissuade” authors from including “unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels”.

I’ve never read anything by Updike – except for the passage above, which is more than enough. Gross.


  1. Updike’s great Danyl, although he’s a bit up and down. Excruciating descriptions of various bodily functions is kind of a trademark of his (but Mailer is worse). A sequel to the Witches of Eastwick was probably ill-conceived, as the first instalment was pretty lame. The four Rabbit Angstrom books which span thirty years of Rabbit’s life are excellent. Couples is also brilliant, and shorter.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — November 28, 2008 @ 8:07 am

  2. If it’s bad sex you want, try John Irving’s 158-lb Marriage, an achingly hideous dissection of swinging. 25 years after reading it, it still makes me shudder.

    Comment by Bearhunter — November 28, 2008 @ 9:58 am

  3. As Guy Smiley says – Updike is prolific, but is often uneven in quality – havent read Witches of Eastwick (but then the synosis on the book blurb put me off) but his works are always worth borrowing off the library. Usually readable – And the Angstrom books are brill.
    Mailer has Updike’s qualities magnified – when he rocks, he rocks; when he dosent you get a large messy trainwreck…

    Comment by Leopold — November 28, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

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