One-Minute Book Reviews

November 23, 2007

Ian McEwan Makes Longlist for Bad Sex in Fiction Award As Expected, Along With Norman Mailer and Jeanette Winterson

Read the list of the nominees for the 2007 Bad Sex in Fiction Award and the lines that may have qualified On Chesil Beach for it

By Janice Harayda

Call me Nostradamus.

Back in August, when a lot of people couldn’t stop praising Ian McEwan’s overrated On Chesil Beach, I wrote that “McEwan aggressively courts a Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review” with the novel I raised the possibility of the Bad Sex Award again when McEwan made the shortlist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction (“Does Ian McEwan Deserve the Man Booker Prize or a Bad Sex Award for Writing Like This? You Be the Judge”)

The Literary Review has just announced the longlist for the 2007 Bad Sex Award, meant to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description … and to discourage it” in modern literary novels (not pornograhy or erotica). And who’s on it? McEwan, along with Norman Mailer, Jeanette Winterson and others. Here’s the longlist:

Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods

Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach

Richard Milward’s Apples

Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy

Maria Peura’s At the Edge of Light

James Delingpole’s Coward on the Beach

David Thewlis’s The Late Hector Kipling

Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest

Quim Monzo’s The Enormity of the Tragedy

Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan

Christopher Rush’s Will

Claire Clark’s The Nature of Monsters

Nobody seems yet to have a list of the passages that won their authors a spot on the longlist for the award, the winner of which will be named on Nov. 27. But these lines from On Chesil Beach (Doubleday/Nan Talese, $22) quoted in my August 10 post, should have qualified McEwan easily (page 24 in the first U.S. edition):

“Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.”

Thanks to the Nov. 23 Literary Saloon for a link to a post on the Bookseller that had the list. When is the Literary Review going to post the qualifying passages?

By the way, you can’t use the “Search Inside This Book” tool on Amazon to find those lines from On Chesil Beach that I quoted, because the people at Doubleday/Nan Talese haven’t enabled it for the book. Those spoilsports.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. McEwan should absolutely win the much-coveted Bad Sex Award with that hilariously atrocious passage from On Chesil Beach. Thanks for the laughs! All the best, K.

    Comment by impatientreaderdotcom — November 23, 2007 @ 4:01 pm | Reply

  2. Bless you for brightening my holiday weekend. McEwan is a better novelist than some on the short list. And if he’s one of the better writers, can you imagine how bad the other entries must be?

    I’ll report back with the name of the winner next week …

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — November 23, 2007 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

  3. You make a good point! My curiosity about the not-so-good novelists is almost enough to make me go to the library and look up their sex scenes. :)Emphasis on library, though. I wouldn’t want to buy the books! Looking forward to finding out the winner! All the best, K.

    Comment by impatientreaderdotcom — November 25, 2007 @ 12:47 am | Reply

  4. Blech I am taking that one off my TBR list.

    Comment by lisamm — November 26, 2007 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

  5. Lisa: Might want to skip the Mailer novel, too. He just won. Jan

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — November 27, 2007 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

  6. Thanks, Jan. I will!

    Comment by lisamm — November 28, 2007 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  7. I didn’t make it all the way through this very short novel–McEwan stretches credulity past the breaking point, as he did in “Saturday.” I can’t believe that a woman who is so worldly wise and has already shown this man her breasts is so uptight about sex.

    But the passage you quote, and that one comment calls “hilariously atrocious,” is (in my opinion) actually quite good, conveying with awe and accuracy the change in male mental state achieved by (in literal terms) such a minor phenomenon.

    Comment by bloom616 — June 20, 2008 @ 5:46 pm | Reply

  8. Bloom616: Your comment couldn’t have been more timely. “On Chesil Beach” just came out in paperback — the official date was June 10 — and to judge by the incoming links to O-MBR, some book clubs selected it almost the moment the new edition hit stores.

    Some clubs could use the comments on this post as a starting point for a spirited discussion (and more of their members might agree with you than me). Thanks so much for your perspective.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 20, 2008 @ 7:43 pm | Reply

  9. […] Ian McEwan By now you’ve probably heard that Ian McEwan came perilously close to winning the Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the UK Literary Review for his not-safe-for-work descriptions of a honeymoon between two […]

    Pingback by Worst. Weddings. EVER. « No Book Left Behind — July 17, 2008 @ 5:27 am | Reply

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