Monday 23 July 2018

Sexual consent debate would drive you to Scrabble, says Lionel Shriver

Broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan with Stefanie Preissner, author of ‘Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’, pictured at the Dalkey Book Festival. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan with Stefanie Preissner, author of ‘Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’, pictured at the Dalkey Book Festival. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Fresh from being dropped from the judging panel of a literary competition after blasting publishers Penguin Random House for their diversity policies, American author Lionel Shriver has joined the discussion around sexual consent.

The American author, who won the 2005 Orange Prize for We Need to Talk About Kevin, says she finds the conversation around sexual consent as "un-fun" and "unsexy", and fears western culture is in danger of becoming asexual.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent ahead of her appearance at the Dalkey Book Festival yesterday evening, Ms Shriver said: "All this stuff about consent, I mean, I am anti-rape but there is something very unsexy about the whole thing. Taking out the contract and calling your lawyer before you decide to have sex and exactly what you agree to. Is it going to be penetrative? And how many inches? I'm sorry, Why don't we just play Scrabble? It just sounds so un-fun to me."

She added: "I am very sympathetic with younger people negotiating the sexual world today. Despite the fact that we have gone through the whole sexual revolution and it is supposed to be easier than ever, it isn't. It is so very difficult to navigate and I think we are in danger of turning into an asexual culture. We are always talking about how sexualised the western world is but I think that on the ground for young people, it is becoming asexual."

Her comments come after her monthly column in The Spectator, entitled 'When Diversity Means Uniformity', caused uproar online after it criticised publisher Penguin's "new company-wide goal" for "both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025" by "taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability".

Shriver took objection and said the publishers were "drunk on virtue". She claimed the company no longer regarded its main objective as the acquisition and dissemination of good books.

Lionel Shriver, who spoke at the Festival yesterday. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Lionel Shriver, who spoke at the Festival yesterday. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

"We can safely infer [from PRH's new policy] that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling," she wrote.

Speaking about the backlash, Ms Shriver said: "I am deliberately protecting myself from the extent of it. But Twitter does tend to leak because people get in touch with me and even in their expression of solidarity, which is mostly what I hear, it is clear that they are responding to something truly horrific out there. And in some ways I fail to protect myself because my imagination is so much worse than reality. It's like the reviews I decide not to read, I sort of write them for myself in my own head, and they are worse than the real thing."

The Dalkey Book Festival continues today with talks from Anne Enright and Marie Heaney. For more information go to www.dalkeybookfestival.org

Sunday Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life