At a splendid party last night at the Naval and Military Club in St James's Square, the actor Charles Dance announced the winner of the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction award. The competition was particularly strong this year, with this passage from Philip Roth's The Humbling the ante-post favourite.
There was some talk among veteran observers of the prize that Roth might even be in the running for a lifetime achievement award (John Updike was a previous recipient), but in the end the laurels went to another American, Jonathan Littell.
The Kindly Ones, Littell's voluminous exploration of the arcane sexual enthusiasms of an SS officer posted on the Eastern Front, which I reviewed favourably in the NS, won the Prix Goncourt and the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie française in 2006 (it was written and first published in French). Littell can now add the Bad Sex Award to those baubles -- for this remarkable performance, described by the Literary Review's Tom Fleming, a less forgiving reader of the novel than me, as "pretentious and highly graphic":
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.