My apologies for being a few months late with this entry. You may recall that I posted the first item in this series about 15 months ago. To refresh your memories, I’ll note that The Literary Review rewards one author per year for writing an extraordinarily awful passage about sex. Since the winner is selected near the end of the calendar year, this post will focus on the winner and runners-up for the 2009 award.
I’ll begin by citing some of the runners-up. Hmm. The first observation I’ll make is that most of these passages are significantly longer than those that made the cut the previous year (2008). Be that as it may, I will go forward, as promised.
Rhyming Life and Death by Amos Oz (Chatto & Windus)
She holds him tight and squeezes her body to his, sending delightful sailing boats tacking to and fro across the ocean of his back. With her fingertips she sends foam-flecked waves scurrying over his skin…
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. And so, in complete self-denial – in every sense – 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.
Attentive to the very faintest of signals, like some piece of sonar equipment 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, 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 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, smoothing any roughness except that slow roughness 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, 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, helps his fingers on their artful way to steer her home.
And the higher the waves of her pleasure, the more his own pride swells, and the more he enjoys postponing his own satisfaction, delaying it until her stifled sobs are all released – until the rising flood sweeps her like a paper boat over the rapids. (Despite his noble aspirations, and for all his devotion to duty, from time to time he does snatch a hasty earnest of pleasures to come by rubbing his tense body along her thigh with a friction that slakes and yet sharpens his lust – before focusing once more on his precise and self-imposed steering.)
Like a musician now, totally absorbed in the movement of his fingertips over the keys, he no longer recalls how just a few hours earlier he found this shy squirrel pleasant and almost pretty but not attractive. His hands are drawn to discover her breasts, the breasts of a twelve-year-old girl, under her night dress, and this time she does not stop him, immersed as she is in her own pleasure; and when he cups them in his hands he is filled with compassion and desire and brings his tongue to her nipples and takes each nipple in turn between his lips, delicately courting them with his tongue, while his fingers play on her labia and the secret petals around a bud so full and firm it almost resembles a third nipple. His lips and tongue follow his fingers’ lead. And she, like a baby, suddenly thrusts her thumb into her mouth and begins sucking on it loudly, until her back suddenly arches like a stretched bow, and a moment later, when she has sunk back onto the mattress, a long, soft cry bursts as though from the bottom of the sea, expressing not only pleasure but astonishment, as though it were the first time in her life she had reached that landing stage, as if even in her wildest dreams she never imagined what was waiting for her here.
It’s a shame that English teachers in American high schools will never be able to use that passage to illustrate the sin of mixed metaphors; they’d be hard-pressed to find another passage that would do the task as well. The sailing metaphor reminded me of a joke the deacon used to tell our preacher friends years ago:
One Saturday evening, as the preacher prepared his sermon for the next morning, his wife asked him what the sermon topic would be.
“Sailing,” he answered.
Surprised by his answer, she nevertheless held her tongue and continued with her evening chores.
On Sunday morning, the preacher looked out at his congregation and saw a sea of teenagers, more than he had seen in a long time. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he decided, at the last moment, to change his sermon topic and preach about sex.
After the service, parents streamed downstairs to the church nursery to pick up their little ones who had been in the care of the preacher’s wife throughout the service. As they exited with their children, several of them made complimentary remarks about the wonderful sermon her husband had preached that morning. The pastor’s wife accepted the compliments graciously, but grew increasingly bewildered as the number of compliments grew. Finally, when one mother told her that her husband had preached like “he really knew what he was talking about,” the poor wife blurted:
“I’m really surprised. He’s only done it twice, and both times he fell off.”
I digress. To return to the matter at hand, let’s look at another passage – one of the short ones:
A Dead Hand by Paul Theroux (Hamish Hamilton)
‘Baby.’ She took my head in both hands and guided it downward, between her fragrant thighs. ‘Yoni puja – pray, pray at my portal.’
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. It had always worked before, a language she had taught me herself, the warm muffled tongue.
I don’t know about you, but prayer as a metaphor for cunnilingus does not inspire me at all. That was one of two passages from Theroux’s book that the reviewers recognized. Nick Cave did Theroux one better and had three passages from his book, The Death of Bunny Munroe, considered by the committee. Here’s a notable extract:
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 and feels again a watery ardour 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.
A fucking pile driver. That sounds more like an excerpt from Penthouse Letters than the work of a polished novelist.
Ten Storey Love Song by Richard Milward (Faber & Faber)
Let’s have sex, they think simultaneously, couples having strange mind-reading powers after months and months of trying to figure each other out. Panting, Georgie starts rubbing her hands round Bobby’s biological erogenous zones, turning his trousers into a tent with lots of rude organs camping underneath. Bobby sucks all the freckles and moles off her chest, pulling the GD bib wheeeeeeeeeee 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 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. Georgie smiles to herself and keeps him hanging on for a bit, which in a way is even better though it makes the Artist 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 and slithers a hand up her skirt where her fanny’s got a bit of five o’clock shadow like a pin cushion but her lips are nice and slippy, and he slides some lubricunt round and round, mixing clockwise with anticlockwise with figure 8 until Georgie’s shagging the air 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. They shag at double-speed…. Meanwhile, down in Vaginaland, Mr Condom’s beginning to feel a bit iffy. He’s overheating. For some reason, the shagging seems to be twice as fast this evening, and he grimaces as he gets flung willy-nilly in and out of the pink tunnel. He starts getting friction burns, hanging onto Bobby’s stiff penis for dear life, headbutting Georgie’s cervix at 180 beats per minute. ‘Help me!’ he yells in the darkness, feeling himself melting. The sex only seems to be getting faster though, and Mr Condom squeezes his eyes shut as Bobby groans and the friction starts getting unbearable and Mr Condom thinks he’s going to be sick and the searing pain the searing pain and Bobby groans again and suddenly squirts a gallon of white molten lava from his Jap’s eye, exploding through Mr Condom’s heavy reservoir end and Mr Condom screams and screams and vomits ice cream into Georgie’s vagina. Shivering and spasming, Bobby suddenly feels the endorphins kick in and he falls onto the carpet with a happy bump.
Well. That’s the first (and last) time I’ve read about sex from the perspective of a rubber named Mr. Condom who finds sex nauseating. Remember, that passage was not the winner. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us with the winning passage. Give heed to Jonathan Littel’s award-winning passage from The Kindly Ones:
Her vulva was opposite my face. The small lips protruded slightly from the pale, domed flesh. This sex was watching at me, spying on me, like a Gorgon’s head, like a motionless Cyclops whose single eye never blinks. Little by little this silent gaze penetrated me to the marrow. My breath sped up and I stretched out my hand to hide it: I no longer saw it, but it still saw me and stripped me bare (whereas I was already naked). If only I could still get hard, I thought, I could use my prick like a stake hardened in the fire, and blind this Polyphemus who made me Nobody. But my cock remained inert, I seemed turned to stone. I stretched out my arm and buried my middle finger into this boundless eye. The hips moved slightly, but that was all. Far from piercing it, I had on the contrary opened it wide, freeing the gaze of the eye still hiding behind it. Then I had an idea: I took out my finger and, dragging myself forward on my forearms, I pushed my forehead against this vulva, pressing my scar against the hole. Now I was the one looking inside, searching the depths of this body with my radiant third eye, as her own single eye irradiated me and we blinded each other mutually: without moving, I came in an immense splash of white light, as she cried out: ‘What are you doing, what are you doing?’ and I laughed out loud, sperm still gushing in huge spurts from my penis, jubilant, I bit deep into her vulva to swallow it whole, and my eyes finally opened, cleared, and saw everything.
I’ve never been impressed with the one-eyed monster metaphor for a penis and that passage did nothing to change my mind. In my opinion, Cyclops stole the award from the more deserving Mr. Condom. Of course, being a mere practitioner of sex rather than a literary expert, my opinion doesn’t count for much.
And there you have it – the winner and some of the runners-up from the 2009 Bad Sex Writing awards. Stay tuned for the 2010 edition, which will be published later this year.