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Guterson’s Oedipus Redux Wins Bad Sex in Fiction Prize in U.K.

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Stephen King
Stephen King, author of "11/22/63." Photographer: Shane Leonard/Simon and Schuster via Bloomberg

Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- David Guterson won the U.K.’s “most dreaded literary prize,” the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, for a torrid romp between a mother and her son in “Ed King,” a recasting of the Oedipus myth.

Presented during a ceremony last night at the Naval & Military Club on St. James’s Square, London, the prize was granted for a 12-hour sequence of what Guterson calls “gyrations and five-sense choreographies” -- ending with a morning shower during which she “abused him with a bar of soap.”

“Oedipus practically invented bad sex, so I’m not in the least bit surprised,” Guterson said in a statement distributed by Britain’s Literary Review, which organized the contest. The author, who lives in the U.S., was unable to attend.

Previously won by Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and Jonathan Littell, the Bad Sex in Fiction contest seeks to shame the author of the year’s “most embarrassing passages of sexual description in a literary novel.” Inaugurated in 1993 by the late Literary Review editor Auberon Waugh, the prize has instead encouraged authors to spice up sex scenes to boost sales.

“Without wanting to sound priggish, this prize has spectacularly backfired,” Waugh’s son, author Alexander Waugh, told the gathering, held in a room lined with red wallpaper. The prize could have been won by a “disappointingly large number of books” this year, he said.

Murakami, Stephen King

Guterson, who made his name with “Snow Falling on Cedars,” narrowly defeated competition from Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84,” Chris Adrian’s “The Great Night” and Lee Child’s “The Affair,” the judges said.

Pornographic or expressly erotic works are excluded from the contest. Yet the Literary Review judges always find plenty to choose from.

Murakami became a finalist for likening a pair of upturned nipples to “a vine’s new tendrils seeking sunlight.” Child was cited for a passage that begins, “Then it was time. We started tenderly. Long and slow, long and slow.”

The shortlist also included James Frey for “The Final Testament of the Holy Bible” (“His breath felt hot and smelled sweet”) and Stephen King for “11/22/63” (“It was the sound of greedy discovery in her voice that put me over the edge”).

The other finalists were “On Canaan’s Side” by Sebastian Barry; “The Land of Painted Caves” by Jean M. Auel; “Dead Europe” by Christos Tsiolkas; “Everything Beautiful Began After” by Simon Van Booy; “Parallel Stories” by Peter Nadas; and “Outside the Ordinary World” by Dori Ostermiller.

Auberon Waugh established the prize to draw attention to the “crude, tasteless, and often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in contemporary novels, and to discourage it.”

To contact the reporters on the story: James Pressley in Brussels at jpressley@bloomberg.net; Hephzibah Anderson in London at Hephzibah_anderson@hotmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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