December 7, 2015
Morrissey committed the worst writely sin—now, he’s won the Bad Sex in Fiction award
by Ena Brdjanovic
Morrissey‘s debut novel finds itself in good company this week—according the BBC, the Smiths frontman joins Ben Okri, Norman Mailer, Sebastian Faulks, and John Updike as the most recent winner of the Literary Review‘s Bad Sex in Fiction prize.
List of the Lost, Morrissey’s first fictional (non-lyrical) offering to the world of letters, tells the story of a group of relay runners who have been cursed by an old man in the woods. The novel has been widely panned (here and here), and The Telegraph went as far as to dub it “unreadable.”
But let’s judge for ourselves—without adieu, and presented without comment, the passage that ushered Morrissey in as this year’s best of the worst…
“At this, Eliza and Ezra rolled together into one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.”
Morrissey’s “giggling snowball of full-figured copulation”—because you needed to see that combination of words one more time—beat out sex scenes written by seasoned fiction authors, including Erica Jong, Joshua Cohen, George Pelecanos, and Richard Bausch. (MobyLives reported on the nominees here.)
Now in its 22nd year, the Bad Sex in Fiction prize was first awarded in 1993 to Melvyn Bragg for his novel A Time to Dance. The award was established by then-editor, Auberon Waugh, as a means of highlighting and discouraging “poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction.”
According to Brenda Maddox of The New York Times, in order to be nominated, a fictional sex scene must fail in the following ways:
The body parts must be described (”a relief map of mysteries” —Melvyn Bragg, 1993 winner for A Time to Dance); the sounds too (”Liz squeaked like wet rubber,” from the 1996 winner, The Big Kiss, by David Huggins). Verbs must be selected. Clenched, writhed, boiled, twisted, slammed? Coitus interruptus or reservatus? Finding a way gracefully to remove the clothes is hard; zippers and buttons get in the novelist’s way. Awkward too is the now-obligatory reference to safe sex (He found the tiny silver packet and as she watched” —Edwina Currie, She’s Leaving Home, a 1997 entry).
The BBC reports that over 400 people showed up to toast Morrissey at the In & Out (I’ll spare you the pun) Club in London. Morrissey himself declined to attend.
Ena Brdjanovic is Director of Digital Media at Melville House.