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Can Nick Cave rival Bad Sex Award favorite Philip Roth?

November 20, 2009 |  6:46 am


British magazine the Literary Review has announced the shortlist of finalists for its Bad Sex Award. The contenders list could be plucked from any highbrow literary award competition: John Banville has won a Booker, Amos Oz has been awarded the French Legion of Honor and Philip Roth has one Pulitzer and two National Book Awards. But maybe they'd prefer not to add the Bad Sex Award to their achievements.

"Nobody wants to win that award," Margaret Atwood -- who is not in the running -- told Jacket Copy in October. 

Not all the finalists feel that way. Nick Cave's "The Death of Bunny Munro" follows the sexual misadventures of traveling salesman Bunny. "Frankly, we would have been offended if he wasn't shortlisted," his British publisher Canongate told the Guardian. Maybe that's because Cave deliberately rendered a crude, sexually obsessed character. "I think it’s a hard look at a particular aspect of masculinity," Cave told Jacket Copy in September. "It’s fronting up to that and railing against the kind of misogynistic and predatory element of the male psyche."

There's a tension about the way the sex appears in Philip Roth's "The Humbling" that caught the judges' attention. In the book, over-the-hill actor Simon Axler woos a young lesbian named Pegeen -- who brings in another woman. The cited passage begins:

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.

OK, enough of that! We're not going to get to the devices part. This is a family newspaper.

The trouble, they note, is in the effort to claim literary respectability. Why write "This was not soft porn," an editor at Literary Review asks, "unless you're worried that it might be taken as such?"

Our reviewer Richard Rayner is a little more diplomatic. "Readers, according to their taste, may find the sex scenes in 'The Humbling' shocking or arousing or just plain silly."

The complete Bad Sex Award shortlist -- silly, sexy and shocking -- is after the jump. To read the passages themselves, you'll have to crack open the books.

John Banville for "The Infinities

Nick Cave for "The Death of Bunny Munro"

Jonathan Littell for "The Kindly Ones"

Richard Milward for "Ten Storey Love Song"

Sanjida O'Connell for "The Naked Name of Love"

Amos Oz for "Rhyming Life and Death"

Anthony Quinn for "The Rescue Man"

Philip Roth for "The Humbling"

Paul Theroux for "A Dead Hand"

Simon Van Booy for "Love Begins in Winter"

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Nick Cave. Credit: Polly Borland