Getting hot between the covers with Sebastian
Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and winner of the 2008 Costa Prize, Sebastian Barry is no stranger to literary awards. However, he probably never expected to be nominated for this year's Bad Sex In Fiction award, the winner of which will be announced in London next Tuesday.
Founded in 1993 by the late Auberon Waugh and presented by the Literary Review, of which he was then editor, the prize aims "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel and to discourage it".
In the opinion of the judges, a section of Barry's most recent novel, On Canaan's Side, falls into this category -- specifically a scene in which the coupling of two lovers is rendered in highly charged language.
"We clutched at each other, we got rid of our damned clothes, and clung and he was in me then, and we were happy, happy, young in that room by the water ..." and so on.
Rather demure, I would have thought (certainly not as exotic as a couple of passages that got John Banville nominated in previous years), but if by any chance Barry wins he'll join such past recipients as Melvyn Bragg, Sebastian Faulks, AA Gill and John Updike -- who was given a special prize in 2008 for his lifelong achievement in writing bad sex scenes.
"That's not writing, it's typing," Truman Capote remarked of Jack Kerouac's On The Road -- a putdown that didn't stop the book from becoming the hipster's bible on its publication in 1957.
Now an earlier and hitherto unknown Kerouac novel, The Sea Is My Brother, is being published and Penguin is hailing this fictionalised account of the author's time in the US merchant marines as "a unique insight into the formation of his genius".
That may be, but Kerouac himself had no illusions about its quality. "A crock of shit," was his verdict on this youthful work. Still, there are Kerouac devotees out there who'll want to decide for themselves.