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Bad-Sex Fiction Finalists Announced

Philip Roth and Amos Oz make list of year’s worst literary sex scenes

Sara Ivry
November 19, 2009

If Philip Roth’s The Humbling fails to earn him a National Book Award nomination next year, he can at least console himself with the news that he’s made the shortlist of contenders for a British award honoring bad sex in fiction. Bestowed by the London magazine Literary Review, the awards “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel,” Auberon Waugh, who helped establish the contest, told the Guardian. In Roth’s case, his narrator’s declaration that a scene with a now infamous green dildo “was not soft porn” is defensive, according to the Review’s Jonathan Beckman, and his description of the female love interest as “a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal” is, said Beckman, “an attempt to convince us that Roth’s leering is actually giving some vital anthropological insight.” Read excerpts from all the finalists for yourself.

Roth is in good company—Israel’s Amos Oz is also a finalist for his book Rhyming Life and Death, as is the musician Nick Cave, whose second novel, The Death of Bunny Monroe, came out earlier this year. There’s one woman, Sanjida O’Connell, among the 10, a disparity which begets the question of whether women authors write sex scenes less often than men or simply less poorly.

Sara Ivry is the host of Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast. Follow her on Twitter@saraivry.