'Bad Sex' Award Is Just 'Retrograde Prudery'

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Just like the Razzies, people pay attention to the Literary Review's "Bad Sex" award for the sheer spectacle of the nominations. And this year—although the crop included Jonathan Franzen and Annabel Lyon—top honors went to Rowan Somerville for this well-deserving passage from The Shape of Her: "Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her."

Take a moment to chuckle at the painful sentence. And now, learn why you shouldn't have. In a Salon essay penned by Laura Miller, the co-founder of the online mag argues that the Literary Review's "Bad Sex" award is merely an exercise in "prudery and cowardice." The Review itself has even admitted that getting publicity is the only purpose of the awards, and really, it "doesn't take much nerve to stand up in front of a boozy crowd and read sex passages from other people's books in a mocking tone of voice while everybody sneers and groans."

While it doesn't take any nerve to talk about something that isn't erotic, it's much harder—Miller points out—to admit that "you've found something arousing" (which she notes is the "British equivalent of the ninth circle of hell"). The presenters of the Bad Sex in Fiction award are all-too-quick to seize an author's outlandish metaphors, but they shy away from anything that comes close to the sexually arousing in fear of offending (or arousing) its guffawing audience.

Miller's "antidote" to the "retrograde prudery" of the Literary Review: "forthright praise for the literary sex writing that does work."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.