Banville vows to avoid sex


Having been shortlisted once again for the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award, John Banville jokes that he’ll avoid the subject altogether in the future, writes FIONA McCANN

‘ALBA HAS stepped out of her dress in one flowing, stylised movement, like a torero, the object of all eyes, trailing his cape in the dust before the baffled bull; underneath, she is naked.” So begins the passage from John Banville’s The Infinitiesthat assured him a place on a literary shortlist this week, alongside such luminaries as Philip Roth, Amos Oz and Paul Theroux. Yet Banville is competing with these and six other authors for a plaster foot, the take-home prize for the winner of the Literary Reviewaward for Bad Sex in Fiction.

The award was established by writer and journalist Auberon Waugh who edited the Literary Reviewfor 14 years. It has been going since 1993, its purpose “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”. This year’s shortlist contains only one woman, Sanjida O’Connell, nominated for a passage from The Naked Name of Love.

Also on the shortlist are singer Nick Cave, for a sex scene in his second novel The Death of Bunny Munro; film critic Anthony Quinn; Simon Van Booy, who recently won the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award; Prix Goncourt winner Jonathan Littell; and Richard Milward, who has been shortlisted for the second time.

Milward attended the award ceremony when he was last nominated, and accepted the 2007 plaster foot on behalf of American author Norman Mailer who was posthumously awarded the prize for a passage from his last novel The Castle in the Forest.

According to Jonathan Beckman of the Literary Review, Banville made the shortlist this year because: “We thought the Banville [passage] was overwrought, prissily caught up in the foreplay of writing and when the sex actually arrives the sense of passage starts to unwind.”

It’s his second nomination for this award, which is judged by the editor and staff of the British monthly. He was previously shortlisted for his novel Shroud. Though no Irish writer has taken home the foot to date, Roddy Doyle also received a nomination for A Star Called Henry,Jamie O’Neill for At Swim, Two Boysand Brian O’Doherty for The Deposition of Father McGreevy.

Previous winners include Sebastian Faulks, AA Gill and Melvyn Bragg while John Updike won a special Lifetime Achievement Award last year after making the shortlist four times.

As for Mr Banville’s reaction to making it onto this year’s shortlist? “I should have known better than to make sport of the gods,” he said in reference to his book, which features a scene in which the Greek god Zeus ravishes one of the female characters while disguised as her husband.

Speaking at the Irish Writers’ Centre on Thursday evening, the Booker prize winner appeared to be approaching this latest accolade with the appropriate gravitas. “I’ve been shortlisted before,” he said, “so obviously I should steer clear of sex.”

The winner of the Bad Sex 2009 award will be announced in London on November 30th.