No Bad Sex in Fiction Award for Franzen


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The annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award was announced in London Monday, and American author Jonathan Franzen, who was in the running for passages in his novel ‘Freedom,’ did not make the cut. It just goes to show that the visibility afforded to Franzen’s big literary bestseller may not be enough to guarantee recognition at awards time. (Franzen didn’t get the National Book Award either.)

The award went to London-born writer Rowan Somerville for his novel ‘The Shape of Her.’


The British magazine Literary Review has been giving out the Bad Sex in Fiction Award since 1993. Winners have included literary heavyweights Norman Mailer, Sebastian Faulks and Tom Wolfe.

‘Nobody wants to win that award,’ Margaret Atwood told Jacket Copy in 2009.

The award is for poorly written sex in literary fiction -- pornography isn’t eligible. This years finalists were:

‘A Life Apart’ by Neel Mukherjee’Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen ‘The Golden Mean’ by Annabel Lyon’Heartbreak’ by Craig Raine’Maya’ by Alastair Campbell’Mr. Peanut’ by Adam Ross ‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas ‘The Shape of Her’ by Rowan Somerville

This year, Alastair Campbell, former spokesman for Tony Blair, had made a surprising play for the award. ‘Given that sex is an important part of a relationship and that most people are involved in some sort of a relationship at some time, it seems a pity not to write about it just because we are a bit squeamish,’ he told the Guardian in an article headlined ‘Why I want to win the Bad Sex award.’

Bloomberg Businessweek reports the judges’ decision was ‘affected by Campbell’s ‘public enthusiasm for winning,’ which would have rendered the purpose of the prize ineffective.’ Instead, they cited Somerville saying that they hoped ‘to shame’ him, particularly for a single sentence. (‘Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he ... her.’)

‘There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the entire nation I would like to thank you,’ Somerville said in a statement.

Americans will have to wait to get a taste of the 2010 winner of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Somerville’s ‘The Shape of Her’ has not yet been published in the U.S.

-- Carolyn Kellogg