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Britain's Most Dreaded Literary Prize...

David Guterson has won the 19th annual Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award, for Ed King (Bloomsbury). The prize was presented to a representative of his publishers by Barbara Windsor, star of the Carry On films and Eastenders.

Alexander Waugh and Barbara Windsor (© Alan Davidson/The Picture Library Ltd)

David Guterson lives in America and was unable to accept the prize in person. 'Oedipus practically invented bad sex, so I'm not in the least bit surprised,' he said in response to his fifth novel winning the award. His bestselling debut, Snow Falling on Cedars, won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Ed King is a re-imagining of the Oedipus myth in the second half of the twentieth century. The winning scene is introduced in the book as 'the part where a mother has sex with her son'. The judges were swayed by the following paragraphs:

These sorts of gyrations and five-sense choreographies, with variations on Ed's main themes, played out episodically between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m., when Diane said, "Let's shower."

In the shower, Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap. After a while he shut his eyes, and Diane, wielding her fingernails now and staring at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels, the other vigorous with the soap-and-warm-water treatment. It didn't take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch.

Guterson narrowly edged out strong competition from Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 ('A freshly made ear and a freshly made vagina look very much alike, Tengo thought'), Chris Adrian's The Great Night (featuring an 'impossibly stiff, impossibly eloquent cock' that 'poked her now from the front and now from the back and now from the side'), and Lee Child's The Affair ('Then it was time. We started tenderly. Long and slow, long and slow. Deep and easy. She flushed and gasped. So did I. Long and slow').

The shortlist also included:

  • On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
  • The Final Testament of the Holy Bible by James Frey
  • Parallel Stories by Péter Nádas
  • 11.22.63 by Stephen King
  • The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M Auel
  • Dead Europe by Christos Tsiolkas
  • Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller
  • Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Last year the prize was won by Rowan Somerville for The Shape of Her published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Other past winners include Jonathan Littell (2009), Rachel Johnson (2008) and Norman Mailer (2007). John Updike was awarded a Bad Sex Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

For an insider's view by Literary Review's senior editor Jonathan Beckman on judging the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, read his piece in the Financial Times. You can also read a more detailed report on this year's shortlist in Literary Review's December/January double issue, out now. For snippets from the shortlist, follow Literary Review's twitter account, @lit_review. The tweets are tagged as Bad Sex.




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