Friday, February 6, 2009

Bad Sex Award Proves Literary Heavy Weights Can't Handle Sexytimes

Paulo Coehlo, John Updike, and Simon Montefiore all have something in common—they should leave the love scenes for the professionals. All three have been shortlisted for the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

As a woman who has read a lot of sexy books and written some exceptionally distasteful sex scenes in her time (read on for an explanation), I am not surprised that these illustrious literary heavey-weights have been brought down a notch. It's not easy writing sex. There's a fine balance between just enough exposition and the purple prose that keeps the reader wanting more.

Plus, is sex really something a novel needs anyway? Obviously if the literature has been published, and it hasn't been cut in the rigorous editorial process, one can assume that some one made the executive decision to keep it. Sex sells, right? So maybe if we keep Coehlo's love scene (set upon a park footpath), we'll sell a few more copies. What say you, Coehlo?
"At last, she could no longer control the world around her," Coelho continues, "her five senses seemed to break free and she wasn't strong enough to hold on to them. As if struck by a sacred bolt of lightning, she unleashed them, and the world, the seagulls, the taste of salt, the hard earth, the smell of the sea, the clouds, all disappeared, and in their place appeared a vast gold light, which grew and grew until it touched the most distant star in the galaxy."
If I had read this in context, I still would have snorted out laughing. Then rolled my eyes, because never have I emitted "a vast gold light." But then, I'm probably too artless for the type of sex Mr. Coehlo composes. For the longest time, my literary sex life was rooted in fanfiction written by and for teenagers like me, a world full of dominant males and eager to please sexual novices. Heck, I even wrote some of that garbage myself. And no, you cannot see it.

And nowadays I've got a pile of Harlequins a meter high, waiting to be devoured in between Don Quixote and On the Road.

I'm not saying that sex should stay in genre fiction. Heaven knows there are great examples of good sex in literary novels (The Time Traveller's Wife, anyone?) But it's awfully difficult to write a good love scene.

Image source: Stewf


Beth F said...

Thanks for the chuckle! Nice post.

Kathleen Molloy said...

Olga, I agree that we can do without many of the sex scenes we are forced to gobble down. When I wrote my first one I felt like I was spying on the couple and I felt dirty - and not in the sexy dirty sense. I reworked the scene about 100 times before I was ready to share it with my review committee. Somehow I got the balance of kinky and tender right but let me tell you it was a great effort and a communal effort. All the better, I hope!

Kathleen Molloy, author - Dining with Death

Kathy said...

Listen, when you're reading Don Quixote - you're going to need to stop for a few sex scenes to stay awake.

Eva said...

I've read a couple 'literary' (I think?) novels this year with some great steamy scenes: Silk by Alessandro Barrico and Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. I agree-it's dfficult to pull off, and that Coehlo passage is hilarious.