Sunday, 13 May 2007

Muriel laughs about literary sex scenes

The movie Where The Truth Lies has a fairly hectic girl-on-girl sex scene in it. I know this because my 16-year-old rented it from the local DVD store and I watched it with her (the age restriction on the DVD was 16). We both squirmed like slugs with salt on. I'm just not, oh I don't know, progressive enough to watch soft porn with my teenage child. (That MNet flighted it at 8pm on Friday night, albeit with the more -- to my mind -- suitable age restriction of 18, beggars belief.)

This got me thinking about sex scenes in movies and also in books. Unless they have something specific to add to a plotline (and let's be honest, how often do they really?), I find most sex scenes a bit, well, embarrassing. If I want to get turned on by editorial erotica, I'll buy a book that tells me it's going to try to do just that. And if I'm not reading erotica, I quite frankly don't want to know about the hero's erection and how it strains against his Levi's buttons, or the moist and swollen state of the heroine's labia.

Hurrah to the Literary Review, which awards a 'Bad Sex in Fiction Award' annually to the author who produces the worst description of a sex scene in a novel. It's been won by such literary luminaries as Andre Brink and Sebastian Faulks, so it's not for sissies. And when Tom Wolfe was awarded the prize for his toe-curling scene (described by the judges, delightfully, as 'ghastly and boring') in I Am Charlotte Simmons, he harrumphed that he'd intended it ironically.

The Literary Review's judges are instructed to look for 'crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description'. Last year's winner (the award is given in November, and is now in its 15th year) was novelist Iain Hollingshead, for a passage in his debut offering, Twenty Something. Reportedly, Hollingshead's reference to 'bulging trousers' tipped the scales in his favour.

I've just finished a book called Zambezi by Tony Park. It's a skop-skiet-en-donner adventure set in southern Africa, and while I could almost forgive him for calling white Africans 'Europeans' (he's an Aussie, what does he know?), I just couldn't get past the ghastly and boring sex scenes, one of which in particular (it graphically featured the insertion of a male finger into a female anus) made me both sweat heavily and laugh out loud.

Thinking that perhaps I'd lost perspective (although I haven't read a Wilbur Smith for yonks, I understand they're erotica hotbeds), I asked my no-nonsense brother-in-law to vet Zambezi for me. His take? 'I quite liked it... but the sex scenes? It's almost as if the publisher pointed out that there wasn't a sex scene in the book, and asked the author to insert a couple. They're totally gratuitous.'

Is it just us (and the judges on the panel of the Literary Review's annual awards)?

Stumble Upon Toolbar


tonypark said...

Thanks for buying the book, even if you didn't like it!

Zambezi was the second and I'm now on my fifth (fourth is due out in a couple of months).

Sorry you didn't like the sex scenes. They're what I get the most feedback about - good and bad. Hopefully I'm learning from past mistakes. Book three's been picked up for distribution in the UK, Germany, and Italy, and you should have heard some of the feedback about the rude bits in that one!

Practice makes perfect, I suppose (hope)...

Muriel said...

Thanks for your gracious reply, Tony. I shall now be compelled to buy your other books and recommend them to all my friends.