Two Irish authors have been shortlisted for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, the least-coveted of literary prizes, which is given out each year by the Literary Review. Julian Gough was nominated for passages in his novel Connect, while William Wall got the nod for sections of his novel Grace's Day.
Gough welcomed his nomination for the award, which exists to draw attention to what its organisers call "poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction".
Gough told The Irish Times he was thrilled the judges had put his name forward for the prize and it, saying "it would be a huge honour to join such former winners as John Updike, Tom Wolfe and Ben Okri.".
Gough was nominated for this passage in Connect: "He drops the bra to the floor, looks up, into her eyes, it's too much. He kisses her chin, her mouth, and their tongues touch, oh, too much, he slips his lips free with a soft suck. Moves up to kiss her strong nose, on one side, then the other, it's hard and soft at once. He moves back down, till he is level with her breasts."
Gough said: "I am delighted to have been shortlisted for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, particularly alongside the great Haruki Murakami, and I hope I win. For years some of the best and most interesting writing about sex has been shortlisted annually by the sniggering mutual masturbators of the Literary Review. It would be a huge honour to join such former winners as John Updike, Tom Wolfe and Ben Okri."
William Wall said: “It’s an honour when a piece of writing which is intended to depict bad sex is identified as depicting bad sex. Even being shortlisted for this award has made my day.”
Japanese author Haruki Murakami, who is often named as a contender for the Nobel prize, makes the cut for passages from his latest novel, Killing Commendatore, in which impossible amounts of semen are ejaculated by the protagonist. The controversial US novelist James Frey, who was exposed for inventing parts of his memoir A Million Little Pieces, was selected for a scene in his novel Katerina described by judges as "almost like wish fulfilment".
The shortlist for the award, which is for "the most egregious passage of sexual description in a work of fiction", also includes the spoof autobiography Scoundrels, by "Major Victor Cornwall and Major Arthur St John Trevelyan"; Kismet, by Luke Tredget; and The Paper Lovers, by Gerard Woodward.
Some sex scenes were "so over the top as to be almost outrageous", according to Frank Brinkley of the Literary Review, who pointed to this line in Scoundrels: "I yearned again for the cogs of her Iron Maiden to grind my glans around inside her like an opera singer with a mouth lozenge."
A common thread of "anatomical confusion" could be found in most of the novels, he said, particularly the male ability to produce semen, seen in both Murakami's novel ("Again and again, semen poured from me, overflowing her vagina, turning the sheets sticky") and Frey's Katerina, which includes eight references to ejaculate in a one-page passage.
Katerina "seemed to one judge to be almost like wish fulfilment. It's this sex which is so bombastic and mechanical, it doesn't feel very real," Brinkley said. "There's also the collision of the artful – 'we're looking into each other's eyes' – with the specifically physical details… There's a clash of registers there."
The winner will be announced on Monday at the appropriately named In & Out club in London. Many former winners have not attended the ceremony. The singer Morrissey, who won in 2015 for a passage that included a reference to "the pained frenzy" of a "bulbous salutation", said he felt it "best to maintain an indifferent distance" from the prize, "because there are too many good things in life to let these repulsive horrors pull you down".
Okri issued a statement saying that “a writer writes what they write and that’s all there is to it”, while Wolfe said that “you can lead an English literary wannabe to irony but you can’t make him get it”.
Julian Gough’s nominated passage in full
He drops the bra to the floor, looks up, into her eyes, it’s too much. He kisses her chin, her mouth, and their tongues touch, oh, too much, he slips his lips free with a soft suck. Moves up to kiss her strong nose, on one side, then the other, it’s hard and soft at once. He moves back down, till he is level with her breasts.
“They’re small,” she says, surprisingly shy, apologetic.
“They’re perfect,” he says.
He kisses them. Teases a nipple with his lips. It’s so soft; and then, suddenly, hard.
He sucks on the hard nipple.
He has never done this before, and yet; no, wait, of course, it is totally familiar.
The first thing he ever did.
He feels the huge change in meaning, in status; it is as though he had grown up in a single suck. Everything transformed. And yet nothing has changed at all; he sucks at a nipple as he lies on a bed, and it’s eighteen years later, and he sucks at a nipple as he lies on a bed, and his childhood falls away from him like a burned-out booster stage from a rocket. Its fuel used up. He is now in orbit around a different planet.
Grace's Day by William Wall
He's almost weightless. When he enters me it hurts and my pain belongs to the subterranean world, primitive as the clay. His body is slacker than I expected, a small paunch begins at his waist and settles in a downward parabola to his groin. His pubic hair is red. His erect penis is a surprise although I had imagined what they would feel like, read about them, seen them represented on toilet walls and magazines. I didn't see it before he entered me, but afterwards it is small and sticky and amusing. I want to touch it but I don't dare. I don't know the etiquette. He is twenty or more years older than me. This is sex.
– additional reporting: Guardian