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Sex in books - good, bad and ugly

Bad Sex in Fiction Award, that most dreaded of accolades in literary world, has gone to Manil Suri this year for his "shoals of atomic nuclei" and "exploding supernovas". A look at past winners and those naughty bits in their works.

books Updated: Dec 06, 2013 15:02 IST
Jyoti Sharma Bawa

The sniggering and titters were audible as the most dreaded literary award was announced this year. Winner Manil Suri preferred to stay home rather than attend the award ceremony. Maybe he was busy or maybe he was embarrassed.

Here's the backgrounder for those who just came in -Suri, the Indian-American author of The City of Devi, has won that eminent award for purple prose this year, the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. dunnit?

Instituted by the whimsical British to probably get a bit of laugh, the award ostensibly aims to draw attention to the "crude, tasteless, and often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in contemporary novels, and to discourage it".

Manil Suri snared it when discussing the climax of a sex scene and likening it to exploding supernovas.

The author, who also teaches Mathematics in the University of Maryland, writes in the book, "Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands - only Karun's body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice."

Authors who made it, and didn't
Suri need not have bothered. He is in august company. John Updike won a lifetime achievement award in 2008 while AA Gill, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Rachel Johnson are among past winners.

Not any purple prose can make it either. Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy didn't even make the cut because her writing was deemed "not cringeworthy enough". The scorn was due to the protagonist's romp with an ex-army officer: '"Oh, oh," I gasped. "Did they teach you this in the SAS?'"

Also nominated in 2010 was Tony Blair for a clumsy sex scene in his memoirs My Journey. While writing about a night spent with his wife Cherie after he learnt about Labour leader John Smith's sudden death, he said, "That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me. On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct." The India connect

Another Indian snagged the award in 2003. Aniruddh Bahal's Bunker 13 probably made it on the strength of 'endomorphically endowed'. As in, "She's taking off her blouse. It's on the floor. Her breasts are placards for the endomorphically endowed. In spite of yourself a soft whistle of air escapes you. She's taking off her trousers now. They are a heap on the floor. Her panties are white and translucent. You can see the dark hair sticking to them inside. There's a design as well. You gasp."

In 2012, Nancy Huston clinched the award for such descriptions as "flesh, that archaic kingdom that brings forth tears and terrors, nightmares, babies and bedazzlements", and "my sex swimming in joy like a fish in water" in her book Infrared.

The one who wanted it
The honourable mention here is Alastair Campbell. He was shortlisted for his book Maya in 2010. He was so enthusiastic about the award that the Literary Review decided not to give it to him on account that it will encourage him to write even more clumsy sex scenes.

Rowan Somerville with his book The Shape of Her defeated him with one well placed line: "like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her".