Bad Sex Shortlist

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If the sex in literary fiction was supposed to arouse or be remotely enticing, they wouldn’t call it literary fiction. They’d call it erotica. This isn’t to say that erotica cannot be literary, but literary fiction is termed literary as its focus tends to be beyond physical or erotic completion.

This year’s bad sex shortlist (The Guardian) features the usual literary suspects but Phillip Roth tops the list with a seduction scene that has slightly chauvinistic and, perhaps, personal fantasy undertones: the seduction of a lesbian by an older man featuring a green dildo. I’ve known some men who harbor the fantasy of converting lesbians. Is it about conversion or is it also about phallic (theirs) worship?

The Pulitzer prize-winning Roth makes the line-up for The Humbling, in which the ageing actor Simon converts Pegeen, a lesbian, to heterosexuality. The Literary Review singled out a scene in which Simon and Pegeen pick up a girl from a bar and convince her to take part in a threesome. Simon looks on as Pegeen uses her green dildo to great effect. “This was not soft porn. This was no longer two unclothed women caressing and kissing on a bed. There was something primitive about it now, this woman-on-woman violence, as though in the room filled with shadows, Pegeen were a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal. It was as if she were wearing a mask on her genitals, a weird totem mask, that made her into what she was not and was not supposed to be,” writes Roth. “There was something dangerous about it. His heart thumped with excitement – the god Pan looking on from a distance with his spying, lascivious gaze.”

Either way, sex in literary fiction tends to be eye watering – for all the wrong reasons.

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