Monday, December 07, 2009
Bad sex award goes to Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones
Bad sex judges pay tribute to 'part-genius' of winning novel and hope winner 'takes it in good humour'
The American winner of the Prix Goncourt, Jonathan Littell, has added another feather to his cap. His novel, The Kindly Ones, was tonight announced as the winner of the Literary Review's 2009 bad sex in fiction award.
The Kindly Ones, which tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of one of the executioners, beat off stiff competition from a stellar shortlist that included entries from Philip Roth, John Banville, Paul Theroux and the literary rock star Nick Cave.
The judges paid tribute to the novel's breadth and ambition, calling it "in part, a work of genius".
"However," the citation continued, "a mythologically inspired passage and lines such as 'I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg' clinched the award for The Kindly Ones. We hope he takes it in good humour."
According to Jonathan Beckman at the Literary Review, The Kindly Ones is the first work in translation to win the award, set up by Auberon Waugh in 1993 to "draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it".
The Kindly Ones was originally written in French, where it was published as Les bienveillantes in 2006, and went on to sell more than 1m copies across the continent and win the Prix Goncourt, France's highest literary honour.
The Goncourt judges were clearly unconcerned by the section which caught the Bad Sex judges' eye, in which Littell draws a comparison between a woman's genitalia and "a Gorgon's head ... a motionless Cyclops whose single eye never blinks".
"If only I could still get hard, I thought," the winning passage continues, "I could use my prick like a stake hardened in the fire, and blind this Polyphemus who made me Nobody. But my cock remained inert, I seemed turned to stone."
According to Beckman, Littell has no plans to attend the award ceremony. Last year's winner was Rachel Johnson for her novel Shire Hell. Previous winners of the famous plaster foot include Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Sebastian Faulks.
* guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009