The author of Snow Falling on Cedars wins the prize for his fifth novel, Ed King, a modern rewrite of the story of Oedipus
An over-reliance on coy terms such as “family jewels”, “back door” and “front parlour” has won acclaimed American novelist David Guterson the dubious accolade of the Literary Review’s bad sex in fiction award.
Guterson, who took the literary world by storm in 1994 with his bestselling debut Snow Falling on Cedars, snaffled the bad sex prize for his fifth novel, Ed King, a modern reimagining of the Oedipus myth. His win was announced in the apt setting of the In & Out Club in London by Carry On star Barbara Windsor; although the American writer was unable to accept his award of a plaster foot in person, he took his triumph in good spirits, saying in response that “Oedipus practically invented bad sex, so I’m not in the least bit surprised”.
Guterson edged out strong competition from Haruki Murakami’s long-awaited new novel 1Q84, which sees the Japanese writer pen the immortal line: “A freshly made ear and a freshly made vagina look very much alike, Tengo thought”.
Chris Adrian’s The Great Night, in which an “impossibly eloquent cock” is wielded to great effect as it “poked her now from the front and now from the back and now from the side”, and Lee Child’s The Affair (“Then it was time. We started tenderly. Long and slow, long and slow. Deep and easy. She flushed and gasped. So did I. Long and slow”) also provided stiff competition, said the Literary Review.
But Guterson was the “clear winner”, said the Literary Review’s assistant editor Jonathan Beckman, with judges swayed by a scene introduced as “the part where a mother has sex with her son”, and including the passages: “these sorts of gyrations and five-sense choreographies, with variations on Ed’s main themes, played out episodically between 10 pm and 10 am, when Diane said, ‘Let’s shower'”; and “she took him by the wrist and moved the base of his hand into her pubic hair until his middle fingertip settled on the no-man’s-land between her ‘front parlour’ and ‘back door’ (those were the quaint, prudish terms of her girlhood)”.
“He says in brackets that these are quaint, prudish terms but I don’t think that is sufficient justification for using them,” said Beckman.
“He’s trying to find a way of writing about sex but it comes across as awkward and self-conscious … It doesn’t quite come off.”
The whole scene is “pervaded by this very heavy-handed imagery,” added Beckman. “It’s all slightly over the top and there’s a bit of a disjoint between this guy who is a sexual demi-god and the weird, weird way Guterson goes about describing it. He seems a bit involved in it.”
The bad sex in fiction prize was set up by Auberon Waugh in 1993 to highlight – and hopefully discourage – the “crude, tasteless, and often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in contemporary novels”. Eighteen years (and numerous examples of bad sex) later, its winners include AA Gill, Melvyn Bragg and Sebastian Faulks.
Ed King by David Guterson:
“In the shower, Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap. After a while he shut his eyes, and Diane, wielding her fingernails now and staring at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels, the other vigorous with the soap-and-warm-water treatment. It didn’t take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch.”