When it comes to truly deplorable writing, not even death, it seems, lets you off the hook. This year's Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award has gone to the late Norman Mailer for a description of oral sex in his final novel, The Castle in the Forest, in which a male member is likened to a "coil of excrement."
"It was the excrement that tipped the balance," said Philip Womack, assistant editor of the London-based Literary Review, whose editorial staff judge the annual prize. "That, and the line about Alois [the male character] being `ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.' That was pretty awful."
This is the first time in its 15-year history that the award -- established in 1993 by Auberon Waugh -- then editor of the Literary Review -- to "draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it" -- has been bestowed posthumously.
The judges took the opportunity to pay homage to Mailer, saluting the breadth and depth of his output alongside his pugnacity and joie de vivre, and entreating the guests at the ceremony, held at the In & Out Club in London, to raise their glasses to his memory. Asked what he imagined Mailer's reaction would have been on learning of his triumph, Womack declared his confidence that the author "would have taken it in very good humor."
Mailer was joined on the shortlist by seven others, but the final decision came down to a three-way wrangle between Mailer, Ali Smith and Christopher Rush.
The roll-call of previous winners includes Sebastian Faulks, Giles Coren, and Mailer's fellow American Tom Wolfe, who was victorious in 2004 with his descriptions of fumbling sex in his campus novel I Am Charlotte Simmons. Wolfe was one of the few authors in the award's history who declined his invitation to accept the prize.