Friday, December 01, 2006


Let's Talk About Sex

The winner of this year's Literary Review award for the worst writing about sex in a novel was Iain Hollingshead for a passage in his novel 'Twenty Something'. Apparently, the author's reference to the protagonist's 'bulging trousers' was enough. However, BabyWashington argues, not unreasonably, that Will Self was robbed for this, from 'The Book Of Dave':

'Dave licked between Phyllis's shoulder blades and drove his tongue down her grooved back. She shuddered and, grabbing his thigh, pulled it up and over her own so that he half straddled her. In the confusion of their bodies - his hairy shanks, her sweaty thighs, his bow-taut cock, her engorged basketry of cowl and lip - there was clear intent; so that when he penetrated her, they moved into and out of one another with fluid ease, revving and squealing, before arriving quite suddenly. Dave and Phyl were having sex in her cottage outside Chipping Ongar.'

Now, I have a little difficulty understanding all of this. Before I go on, I should point out that I haven't read 'The Book Of Dave', because I don't read books in hardback as a point of principle - I fail to see why I should subsidise publishing industry vanity when it will come out in paperback in six months time. I do know, however, that people take Self seriously, and that Self takes Self even more seriously. When the novel was reviewed on the Five Live book review, the reviewers (who normally love everything they're presented with - I've only ever heard them slag off one book in the entire time I've listened) were a bit lukewarm about it, and when a member of the public who'd been given an advance copy started laying into it, Self was mightily unimpressed.

The point I'm trying to make here is that his novel isn't a joke. Whatever you think of Self as a writer, he's an excellent reader of his own work, being possessed of a fine reading voice. It's hard to believe he never read that passage to himself, and if he did, how and why did it end up on the page? It isn't just bad, it's awful, even by the standard of average entries into this dubious competition. When the imagery isn't meaningless ('engorged basketry', 'bow-taut cock'), it's vile ('hairy shanks') or else cringeworthy and cliched ('revving and squealing'). The rancid plosives, the horrible mental image, the jarring disconnect of that final line, it can't all have been accidental.

Self didn't win because the judges stated that 'heavyweights like Thomas Pynchon and Will Self are beyond help at this point'. In other words, giving the award to him would be like giving a Razzie to Ed Wood - somehow, it just wouldn't cover the scale of the offence. Yet time and time again, certain writers find themselves on this list, and Hollingshead may be amongst them - 'I hope to win it every year', he announced.

That, ultimately, is the problem with 'prizes' like this. All they do is encourage an unseemly and unfortunate race to the bottom (so to speak), creating a sort of nonsensical cache for unreadable prose.

Would you want this man narrating your sex?

More to the point, would you have sex with that man? God it must be tragic.
Tom - Cheers mate! That can go on the list.

Boudica - Well, yes. Do you suppose he narrates his own sexual encounters?
i'd fuck him, might give me some junk afterwards.
Even heroin can't be that good!
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