Last week, I reviewed Ben Okri’s The Age of Magic, and found myself engrossed in a verbal dreamscape both endearing and intriguing. At no point, even when I was reading the particular passage that earned Okri the 2014 Bad Sex Award – the 20th shelled out by Literary Review, one of Britain’s most prestigious publications – was I repulsed. Intrigued yes, quirked by the manner in which Mistletoe’s nipple is compared with a switch that makes her ‘come alight.’
So, Literary Review’s decision to award Okri this year’s ‘Bad Sex Award’ bothered me, didn’t sting me much, but I have to admit it got me thinking. Was Okri’s a talentless scrambling for words and was the sex, or the description of it, inane and not ‘required’, ‘unnecessary’? According to Literary Review’s website, “The Bad Sex Awards were inaugurated in 1993 in order to draw attention to, and hopefully discourage, poorly written, redundant or crude passages of a sexual nature in fiction. The intention is not to humiliate.”
Despite the byte-sized disclaimer at the end, just enough sanctimonious smugness that hangs in the air. Given that some of my favourite contemporary writers hail from Britain – Julian Barnes, Hilary Mantel, Will Self, and Okri as well, who has been intimately associated with London’s literary miscegenation for over two decades now – this priggishness about what is and isn’t ‘bad sex’ looks not only atavistic, but, in fact, equally redundant. Moreover, the stretch of logic that brackets E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey with Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Haruki Murakami’s Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki together, is, well, for want of a better expression, slightly questionable itself!
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