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Book sex is the worst sex

Since 1993, the Literary Review has presented the “Bad Sex In Fiction” award to “to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them.” Here, we present, for your Valentine’s Day delight, the winning passages from each year. Have you got the staying power to make it all the way through? (Warning: probably not safe to read these out loud in the office)

1. A Time To Dance - Melvyn Bragg (1993)

"My whole object was your passion: the greater your pleasure, the greater mine. The deeper your passion  - eyes closed, head arched back so I reached up to lick and kiss your throat - the better, the finer for me. And so I would fuck you gently and then more strongly and finally thrust in hard and suddenly and let everything go. “Slam into me,” you used to say, “how you just slam into me!” We would lie side by side which meant that I could hit - yes hit - you harder for longer: then switch to be above you on propped arms. pulling right out and driving in again, hearing the slap of our bellies, percussive accompaniment urging us on, then you would flip over and the deepest thrusts of all while you crouched and half-goaded, half-checked me. During all those times - I kept touching you, remember? - and when I could I took your nipple softly between my teeth so that every secretive part was seduced until you murmured words indistinguishable, and then “Like that” which grew to a moan, a croon, a song of arrival. And I too would come, our sounds and sweat and rhythm together. It was milk and honey: the Promised Land."

2. The Stonebreakers - Philip Hook (1994)

"His hand set out on a magnificently daring journey across limitless expanses of thrillingly unfamiliar flesh, exulting in possession of unknown territory. He traced an exploratory path from the nape of her neck, just below her tousled blonde hair, over her breasts, under her straining buttocks. His fingers trembled now on the inside of her thighs. Trembled there before reaching the place where he wanted her most. He touched her and she cried out in German words that he did not understand. Then her lips were clamped back on his own.

"Soon they were no longer bodies on a bed. They became some mad mobile sculpture manipulated this way and that in the throes of creation; two forms in search of positions of perfect linkage. He wondered in a moment of dislocated lucidity: had she been waiting months for this to happen, has this beautiful, supple, passionate woman been somehow saving herself for this encounter? He had the sense that he was releasing something long dammed up inside her.


"She was single-minded now, concentrated, oblivious of him, superb in her oblivion, impossible to resist, as her pursuit of pleasure fed his own desire, driving him inexorably towards the abyss until that big beautiful barrier burst and Dr Saskia Benz and he lay exhausted on a bed in the best hotel in Cordoba."


3. The Grid - Philip Kerr (1995)

"Underneath the robe she was wearing a garter belt, stockings and panties.

"‘Did the dragon tell you I was coming?’ he grinned, pointing at the antique Feng Shui compass that was mounted on the wall above the bed’s headboard. The compass was a circular disc marked with about thirty or forty concentric circles of Chinese characters, and Mitch knew it was called a Loupan, and that she used it to assess the good and bad qualities of the dragon in a building.

"‘Of course,’ she said, lying back on the bed. The dragon tells me everything.’

"His tremulous thumbs grabbed the elastic waist of her panties, and plucked them down over the twin golden domes of her behind and back up over the suspended sentences and Sobranie filter tips of her stocking tops as, obligingly, she brought her knees up to her chest. She straightened her feet and the little Stealth bomber of black lace and silk was his.

"Quickly he threw off his own clothes and rolled on top of her. Detaching mind from over-eager gnomon* and it’s exquisitely appointed, shadowy task, he made love to her.

"When they had finished they lay under the sheet and watched TV. After a while Mitch glanced at the gold Rolex Submariner watch on his wrist.

“'I ought to be going,' he said."

*A “gnomon” is the sticky-up part of a sundial that casts a shadow. Now you know.

4. Big Kiss - David Huggins (1996)

"‘Stick it in,’ she whispered. I moved up the bed and pushed inside her. Liz squeaked like wet rubber. She grabbed my love handles and ground her hips up against me, her eyes black saucers staring into mine, as she hooked a yoga-leg onto my shoulder. We went through a medley of our favourite positions. When Liz saw I was about to shoot my blob of Lo-cal genetics, she turned onto her stomach, lifting her arse to get a hand to her clitoris and chase me to orgasm. She made it just in time."


5. Matters of the - Heart Nicholas Royle (1997)

"But Ambrose banished the thought and reached for a condom. Yasmin grinned and writhed on the bed, arching her back, making a noise somewhere between a beached seal and a police siren. And then he was there. Slowly at first, dead slow - she liked that, he knew. Then speeding up gradually to gain a rhythm until he was punching smoothly in and out of her like a sewing machine. Her noises increased in volume until she was producing a throaty ululation. He sensed that unmistakeable feeling common to all men, that loosening, as he liked to think of it, of the bow ropes on the big white submarine."

6. Charlotte Gray - Sebastian Faulks (1998)

"Between her legs she felt the touch of his hand while he whispered in her ear. "Madame Guilbert, you are a remarkable woman. If you were not married I might think myself in love with you."

"‘Please, Octave. Please.’

"Charlotte heard her own voice as she begged him to begin, but he kept her waiting, whispering, ‘Dominique, you're so beautiful’ while his hand caressed her until she could take no more but reached out and pulled him into her.

"She felt Julien clench his body in desperate self-control. He moved slowly back and forth for a few minutes, then briefly stopped.

"'Dominique,' he breathed, "this is so wonderful I feel I might disintegrate, I might break into a million fragments.'

"She pushed against him, reclaimed him, and he began to move more vigorously, then sigh with sad rapture as though he recognised his time was limited.

"At the last moment she did feel a rise of feeling in herself as he groaned out her presumed name for the final time; but what name she called out in return she could not have said, as her mind was full of the picture of Julien being annihilated, as he slumped down gasping on top of her, breaking into tiny dying fragments.

"Meanwhile, her ears were filled with the sound of a soft but frantic gasping, and it was some time before she identified it as her own."


7. Starcrossed - AA Gill (1999)

"'...His tongue is long and hard and tastes of mint. We don't say anything, but he pushes me to my knees in the middle of the shop. It's difficult to undo his flies. I put my hand in. It's hot and damp, and then, Christ; it's amazing, huge. It just goes on and on, as thick as...'

"'As a magnum? A jeroboam? A methuselah? A bitter pump?'

"'A fucking salami. Shut up, John.'


"'...he takes his clothes off until he's just wearing his boots. I hook my nails into his really taut bottom and he pumps and nearly chokes me.'

"'How did he get his trousers off over his boots? I mean, does he take his boots off and put them back on again?'

"'Shut up. I pull my dress off and I'm naked. He reaches down and roughly grabs me between the legs. I can feel his long, bony finger slip inside me. His thumb slides into the crack of my bottom and lifts me like...'

"'A bowling ball? A six-pack?'

"'Like I was light as a feather.'


"She got to his cock and stuck it between her teeth like a cigar..'.”


8. Kissing England - Sean Thomas(2000)

“It is time, time to fuck her. Now. Yes. Brupt, he rises, turns her over, flips her white body. Her smallvwhite tidy body. She is so small and so compact, and yet she has all the necessary features... Shall I compare thee to a Sony Walkman, thou are more compact and more

“She is his own Toshiba, his dinky little JVC, his sweet Aiwa.

“Aiwa - She says, as he enters her slimy red-peppers-in-olive-oil cunt - Aiwa, aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh”


9. Rescue Me - Christopher Hart(2001)

“Her hand is moving away from my knee and heading north. Heading unnervingly and with a steely will towards the pole. And, like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Pamela will not easily be discouraged. I try twitching, and then shaking my leg, but to no avail. At last, disastrously, I try squeezing her hand painfully between my bony thighs, but this only serves to inflame her ardour the more. Ever northward moves her hand, while she smiles languorously at my right ear. And when she reaches the north pole, I think in wonder and terror...she will surely want to pitch her tent.”


10. Tread Softly - Wendy Perriam (2002)

“She lay back on the bed while he positioned himself above her, then she slid her feet up his chest and on to his shoulders - Mr Hughes's shoulders. She closed her eyes, saw his dark-as-treacle-toffee eyes gazing down at her. Weirdly, he was clad in pin-stripes at the same time as being naked. Pin-stripes were erotic, the uniform of fathers, two-dimensional fathers. Even Mr Hughes's penis had a seductive pin-striped foreskin. Enticingly rough yet soft inside her. The jargon he'd used at the consultation had become bewitching love-talk: '... dislocation of the second MTPJ ... titanium hemi-implant ...'


“'Yes!' she whispered back. 'Dorsal subluxation ... flexion deformity of the first metatarsal ...'

"They were building up a rhythm, an electrifying rhythm - long, fierce, sliding strokes, interspersed with gasping cries.

“'Wait,' Ralph panted. 'let's do it the other way.' Swiftly he withdrew, arranged her on her hands and knees and knelt above her on the bed. It was even better that way - tighter, more exciting. She cupped his pin-striped balls, felt him thrust more urgently in response.

“'Oh yes!' she shouted, screwing up her face in concentration, tossing back her hair. 'Yes, oh Malcolm, yes!’"


11. Bunker 13 - Aniruddha Bahal (2003)

“She's taking off her blouse. It's on the floor. Her breasts are placards for the endomorphically endowed. In spite of yourself a soft whistle of air escapes you. She's taking off her trousers now. They are a heap on the floor. Her panties are white and translucent. You can see the dark hair sticking to them inside. There's a design as well. You gasp.

"'What's that?' you ask. You see a designer pussy. Hair razored and ordered in the shape of a swastika. The Aryan denominator...

“As your hands roam her back, her breasts, and trace the swastika on her mound you start feeling like an ancient Aryan warlord yourself...

“She sandwiches your nozzle between her tits, massaging it with a slow rhythm. A trailer to bookmark the events ahead. For now she has taken you in her lovely mouth. Your palms are holding her neck and thumbs are at her ears regulating the speed of her head as she swallows and then sucks up your machinery.

"She is topping up your engine oil for the cross-country coming up. Your RPM is hitting a new high. To wait any longer would be to lose prime time...

“She picks up a Bugatti's momentum. You want her more at a Volkswagen's steady trot. Squeeze the maximum mileage out of your gallon of gas. But she's eating up the road with all cylinders blazing. You lift her out. You want to try different kinds of fusion.”


12. I am Charlotte Simmons - Tom Wolfe (2004)

“Hoyt began moving his lips as if he were trying to suck the ice cream off the top of a cone without using his teeth. She tried to make her lips move in sync with his. The next thing she knew, Hoyt had put his hand sort of under her thigh and hoisted her leg up over his thigh. What was she to do? Was this the point she should say, 'Stop!'? No, she shouldn't put it that way. It would be much cooler to say, 'No, Hoyt,' in an even voice, the way you would talk to a dog that insists on begging at the table.


"Slither slither slither slither went the tongue, but the hand that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns - oh God, it was not just at the border where the flesh of the breast joins the pectoral sheath of the chest - no, the hand was cupping her entire right - Now! She must say 'No, Hoyt' and talk to him like a dog...


"...the fingers went under the elastic of the panties moan moan moan moan moan went Hoyt as he slithered slithered slithered slithered and caress caress caress caress went the fingers until they must be only eighths of inches from the border of her public hair - what's that! - Her panties were so wet down...there the fingers had definitely reached the outer stand of the field of pubic hair and would soon plunge into the wet mess that was waiting right...therethere”


13. Winkler - Giles Coren(2005)

“And he came hard in her mouth and his dick jumped around and rattled on her teeth and he blacked out and she took his dick out of her mouth and lifted herself from his face and whipped the pillow away and he gasped and glugged at the air, and he came again so hard that his dick wrenched out of her hand and a shot of it hit him straight in the eye and stung like nothing he'd ever had in there, and he yelled with the pain, but the yell could have been anything, and as she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath, she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times, in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro.”


14. Twentysomething - Iain Hollingshead (2006)

"She's wearing a short, floaty skirt that's more suited to July than February. She leans forward to peck me on the cheek, which feels weird, as she's never kissed me on the cheek before. We'd kissed properly the first time we met. And that was over three years ago. But the peck on the cheek turns into a quick peck on the lips. She hugs me tight. I can feel her breasts against her chest. I cup my hands round her face and start to kiss her properly, She slides one of her slender legs in between mine. Oh Jack, she was moaning now, her curves pushed up against me, her crotch taut against my bulging trousers, her hands gripping fistfuls of my hair. She reaches for my belt. I groan too, in expectation. And then I'm inside her, and everything is pure white as we're lost in a commotion of grunts and squeaks, flashing unconnected images and explosions of a million little particles."

15. The Castle in the Forest - Norman Mailer (2007)

"'Are you all right?' she cried out as he lay beside her, his breath going in and out with a rasp that sounded as terrible as the last winds of their lost children. 'All right. Yes. No,' he said. Then she was on him. She did not know if this would resuscitate him or end him, but the same spite, sharp as a needle, that had come to her after Fanni's death was in her again. Fanni had told her once what to do. So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One - that she knew. From there, the impulse had come. So now they both had their heads at the wrong end, and the Evil One was there. He had never been so close before. The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. It surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety."


16. Shire Hell - Rachel Johnson (2008 joint winner)

"JM comes over and pushes me gently back down on the fake fur. I try to rise up to kiss him - it's so lovely, the kissing - but he pushes me down, again. He likes to kiss me all over before he does anything else. He starts with my eyes, and plants a tender kiss on each lid. ... He moves on to my ears, a kiss that makes my nipples stand erect, and me emit little moans that drown out to my own ears the loud, distracting sound of Cumberbatch swiping dock leaves and tearing nettles and long grasses very close to the rickety stoop. JM's hands are caressing my breasts, now, and I am allowed to kiss him back, but not for very long, for he breaks off, to give each breast in turn the attention it deserves. As he nibbles and pulls with his mouth, his hands find my bush, and with light fingers he flutters about there, as if he is a moth caught inside a lampshade. Almost screaming after five agonizingly pleasurable minutes, I make a grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside, but he holds both my arms down, and puts his tongue to my core, like a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop. I find myself gripping his ears and tugging at the locks curling over them, beside myself, and a strange animal noise escapes from me as the mounting, Wagnerian crescendo overtakes me. I really do hope at this point that all the Spodders are, as requested, attending the meeting about slug clearance or whatever it is."


17. The Widows of Eastwick - John Updike (2008 joint winner)

"'[...] Do you want to see my vagina? Have you ever looked at one?' 'Of course.' 'Why 'of course'? Many men haven't. Straight men. They're scared to. It's the Medusa's head, that turns them to stone. Uh-oh. You're losing your stoniness. I guess you're not ready to think about vaginas yet.' 'No. I am. I'll get ready. But - ' 'I know, darling. I know.' She said nothing then, her lovely mouth otherwise engaged, until he came, all over her face. She had gagged, and moved him outside her lips, rubbing his spurting glans across her cheeks and chin. He had wanted to cry out, sitting up as if jolted by electricity as the spurts, the deep throbs rooted in his asshole, continued, but he didn't know what name to call her. 'Mrs Rougement' was the name he had always known her by. God, she was antique, but here they were. Her face gleamed with his jism in the spotty light of the motel room, there on the far end of East Beach, within sound of the sea. The rhythmic relentless shushing returned to their ears. She laid her head on the pillow and seemed to want to be kissed. Well, why not? It was his jism. Having got rid of it, there was an aftermath of sorrow in which he needed to be alone; but there was no getting rid of her. 'Call me Sukie,' she said, having read his mind. 'I sucked your cock.' 'You sure did. Thanks. Wow.'"


18. The Kindly Ones - Jonathan Littell (2009)

"Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair. She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn't even bother to lower her panties, just pushed the lace to one side and spread her buttocks with both hands: in the slit, nestling in hair, her anus gently contracted. I spit on it. 'No,' she protested. I took out my penis, lay on top of her, and thrust it in. She gave a long stifled cry. I was crushing her with all my weight; because of the awkward position – my trousers were hindering my legs – I could only move in little jerks. Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: 'I'm going to pull the lever, I'm going to let the blade drop.' She begged me: 'Please, fuck my pussy.' – 'No.' I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg."


19. The Shape Of Her - Rowan Somerville (2010)

"Naked from waist to toe, a faint wedge of paleness from a few hours of sun, streaked with shadows in the candlelight; the triangle of pubic hair, blond, a thin line bunched darkly, like desert vegetation following an underground stream. He placed his hand on the concave stretch that was her belly, letting two fingers rest in the yawn of her navel. He slipped downwards, grazing the tight skin of her waist with his fingertips. He reached her hair line and the muscles of her belly hardened as she raised herself up onto her elbows. She stayed his hand and drew him, yanked him, into a smothering kiss. She released his hair from her fingers and twisted onto her belly like a fish flipping itself, her movement so brusque his chin bounced off her head.

"He grasped the side of her hips, pushed her away and pulled her to him with a slap. Again and again with more force and velocity. Tine pressed her face deeper into the cushion grunting into the foam at each thrust.

"The wet friction of her, tight around him, the sight of her open, stretched around him, the cleft of her body, it tore a climax out of him with a final lunge. Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her."


20. Ed King - David Guterson(2011)

"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."


21. Infrared - Nancy Huston(2012)

"No sooner have we settled onto the bed and begun to remove each other's clothes with the clumsy gestures of impatience than I realise Kamal also knows about passivity — yes, he also knows how to remain still, fully awake and attentive, and give himself up to me as a cello gives itself up to a bow. Arching his back, he surrenders his face, shoulders, back and buttocks, waiting for me to play them, and I do — I play them, play with them. Most men are afraid to let go like this — whereas with a little finesse the wonders of passivity can be tasted in even the most violent throes of love-making.

"In a delirium of restrained desire, I weigh, stroke and lick Kamal's balls, then take his penis in my hands, between my breasts, into my mouth. He sits up, reaches for me and I allow him to explore me in turn. He runs his tongue and lips over my breasts, the back of my neck, my toes, my stomach, the countless treasures between my legs, oh the sheer ecstasy of lips and tongues on genitals, either simultaneously or in alternation, never will I tire of that silvery fluidity, my sex swimming in joy like a fish in water, my self freed of both self and other, the quivering sensation, the carnal pink palpitation that detaches you from all colour and all flesh, making you see only stars, constellations, milky ways, propelling you bodiless and soulless into undulating space where the undulating skies make your non-body undulate ..."


22. The City of Devi - Manil Suri (2013)

"Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun's body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice."


23. The Age of Magic - Ben Okri(2014)

"When his hand brushed her nipple it tripped a switch and she came alight. He touched her belly and his hand seemed to burn through her. He lavished on her body indirect touches and bitter-sweet sensations flooded her brain.

"She became aware of places in her that could only have been concealed there by a god with a sense of humour. Adrift on warm currents, no longer of this world, she became aware of him gliding into her. He loved her with gentleness and strength, stroking her neck, praising her face with his hands, till she was broken up and began a low rhythmic wail. She was a little overwhelmed with being the adored focus of such power, as he rose and fell. She felt certain now that there was a heaven and that it was here, in her body. The universe was in her and with each movement it unfolded to her.

"Somewhere in the night a stray rocket went off."


Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms. He is Director of Editorial at 89up and has written and ghostwritten for The Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The Sun, and The Irish Post.

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