Monday, January 10, 2011

Sex in books

It beggars belief nowadays that once upon a time the sex scenes in Lady Chatterley’s Lover were considered subversive. How did the judge and jury at the trial not succumb to bouts of adolescent giggling? Those scenes now make one squirm with embarrassment for poor DH and his hamfisted humourless attempt to find depth psychology in the vagaries of the sexual act.
 But don’t all lengthy anatomised sex scenes make one cringe at some point? Isn’t there almost always a point where they cease to say anything meaningful about the characters involved but dilate and blur into the comically humiliating impersonality of any bodily function? And why does sex invariably make an author overwrite? It’s these earnest attempts to poeticise in language the clichéd choreographies involved in the sexual union which are so risible. Watch two pigeons shagging: how much poetry or personality is involved? It’s a depressing programmed spectacle unless you tag it as slapstick comedy and view it accordingly. I would argue that the mechanics of sex, like those of washing dishes, are descriptively gratuitous and will, in all likelihood, turn you into a laughing stock. 

Here, to prove the point, are some excerpts from winners of previous bad sex awards:

O glorious pubes! The ultimate triangle, whose angles delve to hell but point to paradise. Let me sing the black banner, the blackbird's wing, the chink, the cleft, the keyhole in the door. The fig, the fanny, the cranny, the quim - I'd come close to it now, this sudden blush, this ancient avenue, the end of all odysseys and epic aim of life, pulling at my prick now, pulling like a lodestone.Anne Hathaway's cow-milking fingers, cradling my balls in her almond palm, now took pity on the poor anguished erection, and in the infinite agony of her desire, guided it to the quick of the wound.
From  Will by Christopher Rush
Was that her tongue? Was that what they meant when they said flames had tongues? I was hard all right, and then I was sinew, I was a snake, I changed stone to snake in three simple moves, stoke stake snake, then I was a tree whose branches were all budded knots, and what were those felty buds, were they antlers? were antlers really growing out of both of us? was my whole front furring over? and were we the same pelt? were our hands black shining hoofs? were we kicking? were we bitten? We were blades, were a knife that could cut through myth, were two knives thrown by a magician, were arrows fired by a god, we hit heart, we hit home, we were the tail of a fish were the reek of a cat were the beak of a bird were the feather that mastered gravity were high above every landscape then down deep in the purple haze of the heather were roamin in a gloamin in a brash unending Scottish piece of perfect jigging reeling reel can we really keep this up?
From Boy Meets Girl by Ali Smith

 I'm not much of a muff diver, but I can strongly recommend that Kentucky cocktail of Sneaky Pete and strawberry juice. Further down my body, Honey Mackintosh bobbed up and down between my legs, her big soft lips locked around my hootchee and, true to her Scottish roots, she sucked away like she was the last person left on earth to play the bagpipes on Robbie Burns' birthday.
From The Sucker's Kiss by Alan Parker

When his hand took me to my fourth orgasm, I entered a place where everything seemed at peace, and with my fifth orgasm I knew God.
from Eleven Minutes by (the implacably hackneyed) Paolo Coelho

And the aroma of her lily-fragrant perfume mingled with the cat smell of her steaming cunt made me salivate and pant like a lion, my nose tormented by damp fur and hot blood. Still I could not tell where her soft skin ended and her silk began, and the complexity of her vaginal lips was like another elaborate silken garment she had put on for me to stroke. The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro by Paul Theroux


  1. I love DH Lawrence. But yeah.

    I take exception to poor Paulo being on the list for that one though. It's only one sentence, and if you've ever come so many times you thought you were going to die, you know what he's getting at.

  2. I have to agree with Frankie - that is a great sentence by Paolo and not cheesy at all.

  3. I love DH too and ironically he wrote about sex brilliantly in his early writing before he started diagramming and literalising it. Can't abide the happy clapping Paulo, I'm afraid: to my mind he's made his reputation by doing bland commercial cover versions of other people's work.

  4. I love DH Lawrence too but have to agree with you. Unless it's erotica, maybe it shouldn't be written. I'm surprised at Ali Smith though - that's extraordinary; maybe in context it reads better.

  5. Diana, I'd say Ali Smith got carried away. That's how it reads - like someone tumbling down a hill who can no longer stop herself. And that's often what happens when people write about sex. They put down a couple of pertinent sentences and then before they know it they've got two paragraphs of purple prose. The same iridescent exaltation can take hold when writing comedy - I suspect it's always bad writing when it's overly conspicuous that a writer is enjoying him/herself in their text. And this is more likely to happen with sexual content...

  6. We did a couple of articles on sex scenes in books and had excerpts for people to discuss on Authors on Show (the blog part). It drew a huge audience and hundreds of extra people to the site.