Jonathan Littell

by |December 4, 2009

Does it sizzle or does it sink? All was revealed in London a day or two ago with the annual Literary Review’s Bad Sex Awards.

Previous winners have included none other than Tom Wolfe, John Updike and Norman Mailer, but this year it was a debut novelist who scooped the pool.

All the colour and movement of the night have been captured by our spy,  Olivia Cole.

“Held at the In and Out Club in St. James, a conservative, members-only London club chosen purely for the bad-joke value of its name, the awards are conducted in a Carry-On-Up-the-Literati spirit, which means that I can only describe myself as a Bad Sex Awards virgin. On a freezing night, while publishers are cutting back on lavish launches, here the Champagne flowed freely, and around 200 people were squashed into the usually sedate venue. Novelist Howard Jacobsen and historian Andrew Roberts, alongside just about every literary editor in London, all listened intently as the nominated passages were read aloud. This is the circus of smut and schadenfreude that is the Bad Sex Awards.

“The prize is run by the Literary Review, a small but determinedly high-brow literary magazine founded by Auberon Waugh, Evelyn’s son. He set the award up to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.

“To add to the theatricality, actors are engaged to entertain guests with performances of the most offending passages. There’s another sadistic flourish: The judges highlight what is unsexy but insist someone very sexy indeed hand out the prize.”

But enough of the night. What about the badly written rude bits? Well,  the winner was Jonathan Littell, whose holocaust novel The Kindly Ones has been much praised by critics in the French and English speaking world and has gone on to sell more than one million copies in Europe alone. Having read the tome myself, I can say that there was so much ghastly stuff going on in that book that the badly written sex bits passed me by. This is a serious and disturbing book. When it comes to sex however, you can judge it yourself, by following this link. Be warned however. It is not just the writing that is awful.

To read what Littell was up against, click here.

Below is the complete list of this year’s also-rans. While we do have one home-grown hero, Nick Cave, on the list, my only comment is that the judges clearly haven’t read David Foster’s Sons of the Rumour although I am happy to take other suggestions for a home grown list.

OK, now to that short-list.

The Humbling by Philip Roth

The Infinities by John Banville

Rhyming Life and Death by Amos Oz

The Naked Name of Love by Sanjida O’Connell

A Dead Hand by Paul Theroux

The Death of Bunny Munroe by Nick Cave

The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy

Ten Storey Love Song by Richard Milward

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