When I set out to write this article, I was intending to insert hilarious extracts from this year’s shortlist of the Literary Review’s annual Bad Sex Award. But when I started to research I realised that I had radically jumped the gun. There’s nothing on the internet at the moment apart from the initial article I saw, which exposes the fact that Tony Blair’s The Journey is up for nomination. I am stunned that they still imagined that anything else would need be nominated. Sex with Cherie? I think that constitutes bad sex in anyone’s book, regardless of literary context.
Regardless, I’m glad there will be a shortlist because in all seriousness it is my favourite award of the year. My first foray into erotica was entirely by mistake by picking up Melvin Burgess’ Lady: My Life as a Bitch a young adult novel about (I kid you not) a girl who gets turned into a dog and proceeds to rut about a good bit. If anything’s going to be confusing for a young mind, that is. I found an interview with Burgess talking about his fiction saying it was about having to ‘engage’ with kids. Even then, my aim was not to engage in dogging. In any sense.
My next mistake, was only a few years later, when I had moved downstairs (oop, Matron!) in Waterstone’s to the adult section, and picked up Adam Thirlwell’s Politics, naively (and rather pretentiously) thinking that it was in fact about politics. The opening scene is about sodomy, and about every other scene in the book explores some kind of role play exercise. To a 15-year-old girl the whole thing was rather extraordinary. And yes. Fucking hilarious. Literally. This was followed rather rapidly by Birdsong where the first sex scene had me giggling mercilessly. This year, when I re-read it again I still found myself in fits. Also recently, I mistakenly found myself reading In the Cut in public and actually blushing over the ‘rude bits’ and sliding down in my chair.
I think it must just be the British condition. Sex. Is. Funny. It has always been the biggest joke for us, from the Carry on films to Hugh Grant’s bumbling efforts. Recently working at a book shop I moved the erotica section, feeling that these days people can buy the books on the internet instead of pawing them apart for five minutes titillation in front of a rather uncomfortable sales girl (me). When a few weeks later a young man came in and asked me for the erotica section my first response was ‘literary or visual?’ to which he looked mightily confused, and I ended up pointing him to underneath one of the displays where Black Lace Quickies and Four Play were kept (and still are as far as I know). But that is the blatant eroticism. In his interview Burgess says that:
‘...picking out the rude bits and taking them out of context isn’t a very good way of reviewing a book.’
Ahh...maybe not. But is a golly good laugh, eh? A good naughty limerick, the classic Benny Hill theme, page-three girls with their infinite wisdom. I’ll double any entendre. I guess the problem with literary writing about sex is that it generally loses this humour – its less lusty and thrusty and more...I don’t know...sky rockets and sensual pleasure. But more often than not sex is lusty and thrusty. Someone is bound to leave a sock on, or have trouble getting the jeans off..their...ankles......ah. Isolating it will always make it sound vaguely ridiculous, or overly smoochy for the basest of animal pleasures. Someone will always mistakenly think that using the word ‘member’ is acceptable.
It’s probably that I just don’t want to imagine any of those writers getting down and dirty, or even, god forbid, wet and wild. To me, whatever is written, it’ll always end up sounding like a Cosmo confession. I assume it’s immaturity on my part, but golly gosh, I am certainly counting down until the shortlist comes out, I can always do with a laugh on these long winter nights.