December 6, 2013
Bad Sex in Fiction Award winner named for 2013
by Julia Fleischaker
Literary Review announced this week the 2013 winner of their annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Manil Suri has won the dubious prize for his novel, The City of Devi. The other shortlisted titles were Susan Choi‘s My Education, Woody Guthrie‘s House of Earth, The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood, Motherland by William Nicholson, The World Was All Before Them by Matthew Reynolds, and Secrecy by Rupert Thomson.
According to the magazine’s website, Suri’s description of a menage a trois featuring three main characters sealed the deal for the judges, “Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.'”
Fifty Shades of Grey may have shoved bad sex writing into the mainstream, but Literary Review has been waging their war against cringe-worthy love scenes since 1993. In The Independent, Literary Review’s Jonathan Beckman offered a defense against complaints that the award is mean-spririted. “Every year, with the predictability of an astronomical orbit, criticism of the Bad Sex Award returns: we’re bullies, they cry, we’re prudes. These charges are grave but misguided.” He goes on to say, “The Bad Sex Award is not a bear pit of contempt. It’s a prize that cares deeply about writing, that shows how it’s done badly so it may be done better in future.”
Don’t feel too bad for Suri. For one, he’s doing just fine. (Literary Review notes that he “has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Pen/Faulkner Award; he won the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize in 2002. He is a professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland, where his research focuses on the numerical analysis of partial differential equations.”) Secondly, he’s a good sport. According to NPR, “the award was presented by Joan Collins at a ceremony in London. Suri did not attend. Contacted for comment after the ceremony, he said he did not know that Collins would be presenting the award: ‘My one chance to meet Joan Collins, and I blew it!'” And third, he joins a list of extremely successful authors to win the award, including Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and John Updike, who was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.