Leah McLaren is one of my favourite Globe and Mail columnists. She is currently living in London, England, and in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail she wrote, in her usual barbed witty style, about what it was like to be a spectator at this year’s 20th annual Bad Sex in Fiction Awards, held at the Naval and Military Club in London. (Read her column here.)
I wanted to write about the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Awards because I mentioned them in my recent book review of Fifty Shades of Grey. Surely Fifty Shades would be a top contender for the award? Well, no; it didn’t even make the shortlist. McLaren quotes event host Alexander Waugh (yes, he’s from the Waugh family of writers) as saying the judges couldn’t consider Fifty Shades because “you can’t just write any old rubbish with lots of bad sex. It has to be a good book that’s rather ruined by the bad sex.”
It turns out that this year’s prize was won by a Canadian! Writer Nancy Huston nabbed top honours for a passage in her recently-published novel Infrared. I was a little surprised about this, because I’ve read several of Huston’s many novels and liked their poetic style. Her books have won or been shortlisted for many writing prizes. My favourite book of Huston’s, Slow Emergencies, won two prizes for its French edition.
I’ve also been fascinated by Huston’s personal history: she was born in Calgary but has lived in Paris since 1973. She learned French in school and at university. As a writer, she decided that writing in French gave her the “voice” she wanted, as she had both a good command of the language but also a “distance” from it. She self-translates many of her books from French to English.
According to McLaren, a good example of the passages that earned Huston her first Bad Sex in Fiction award came from an oral sex scene of “squirm-inducing imagery”:
“…never will I tire of that silvery fluidity, my sex swimming in joy like a fish in water.”
I agree it’s not the best poetic or erotic prose I’ve ever read, but compare it with this passage from another shortlisted work, The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills:
“…semen-bedizened blood-pusillanimous bed onanistic quiddity fulcrating pelvic thrusts…”
Now that is unreadable—and disgusting. Mills should have taken the prize.
To read more about Infrared and Nancy Huston’s prize, view an article by British journalist Jill Lawless here.
George’s Fetherling praised Infrared so highly in his Quill & Quire book review that I’m determined to read it even if I have to struggle through some “squirm-inducing” passages. Fetherling’s definition of the “critical feature of pornography” (which he notes Infrared lacks) is so good I had to include it here:
What makes pornography truly pornographic is the way the characters undergo all manner of bizarre, brutal, dehumanizing, and even gory ordeals, only to emerge at the end not having changed one iota as human beings.