The Bad Sex Award 2006: On, yes, unstoppably on!

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The Independent Culture

Forget the Man Booker: reputations are forged and ruined by the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Prize, inaugurated in 1993 by the late Auberon Waugh of the Literary Review with the aim of stamping out gratuitous sexual interludes in serious works of fiction. Happily, the annual prize has not yet achieved its aim; each year brings a fresh crop of delights. The winner is announced on Wednesday, and the IoS received a sneak preview of the shortlist.

We were not entirely surprised to see the great Tim Willocks there, with his novel of the Crusades, The Religion (Cape), "a book that never lets the beacon of the hero's gigantic todger slip below the horizon for more than a few pages", according to our reviewer, Tim Martin. "That's the Bad Sex Award in the bag," he concluded, after quoting passages involving "fast-engorging privities" and "the folds of her matrix". In the bit that wowed the Literary Review, the hero "bent her across the the cold steel face of the anvil... she called out to God and convulsed with each slow stroke, her head thrown back and her eyelids aflutter, and her cries filled the forge..."

But Willocks faces a tough challenge from Thomas Pynchon, with a sex scene between a man and a spaniel ("Ruperta had trained her toy spaniel to provide intimate 'French' caresses of the tongue for the pleasure of its mistress... Reef followed, taking out his penis, breathing heavily through his mouth. 'Here Mouffie, nice big dog bone for you right here...'"

Then there's Irvine Welsh in Bedroom Secrets of the Masterchefs (Cape), in which a character uses spit as a sexual lubricant: "Skinner took his thick green slime and spread it like a chef might glaze some pastry... A ludicrously distended clitoris popped out from nowhere like a jack-in-the-box..." Oh, yuck.

It was rather mischievous to nominate David Mitchell's Black Swan Green (Sceptre), yet the judges were won over by "Now she made a noise like a tortured Moomintroll..." together with the image of "cressy" pubic hair.

Water imagery is to the Bad Sex prize what post-colonialism is to the Man Booker. This year Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother (Cape) qualified handsomely. "And it swept over her like surf sweeping over sand then falling back and sweeping up over the sand again and falling back. Images went off in her head like little fireworks. The smell of coconut. Brass firedogs." Genius!

But lest you think the big boys (fnur fnur) have it sewn up, the little-known Julia Glass mounts a strong challenge in The Whole World Over (Hutchinson): "all the words this time not a crowding but a heavenly train, an ostrich fan, a vision as much as an orgasm, a release in something deep in the core of her altered brain..." and so on, on, yes, on!

Honourable mentions also go to Iain Hollingshead's Twentysomething (Duckworth) - "her crotch taut against my bulging trousers" - and Michael Cannon's Lachlan's War, published by Cape, in which a woman climaxes "with surprise". Perhaps it was the firedogs.

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