Bad sex award goes to Italian novelist Erri De Luca’s genital ‘ballet dancers’

The Literary Reviews annual pillory of overheated erotic writing selects a passage from The Day Before Happiness for high-profile ridicule

Italian author, poet and translator Erri De Luca has added another accolade to his glittering career although this may be one he would prefer to have avoided. The winner of the 2013 European Prize for Literature, hailed as writer of the decade by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in 2009, has won the 24th annual Literary Review Bad sex award for a passage in his novel The Day Before Happiness.

De Lucas win was announced at a ceremony at the appropriately named In and Out club in London on Wednesday night. The excerpt that swayed the judges involved the Neapolitan orphan protagonist and a mysterious woman he has watched from afar.

He writes: My prick was a plank stuck to her stomach. With a swerve of her hips, she turned me over and I was on top of her. She opened her legs, pulled up her dress and, holding my hips over her, pushed my prick against her opening. I was her plaything, which she moved around. Our sexes were ready, poised in expectation, barely touching each other: ballet dancers hovering en pointe.

De Luca was unable to attend and his publisher at Allen Lane accepted the prize on his behalf.

The book beat stiff competition from a shortlist that included former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis for a passage in her bestselling debut The Butchers Hook. It likened sex to hanging out wet washing. Ethan Canin was picked for an episode in A Doubters Almanac where pneumatic lovers enjoy sex like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced.

In Men Like Air,Tom Connolly presented the eye-watering revelation that often she cooked exotic meals and put chillies or spices in her mouth while preparing the food and sucked him while the food cooked and then told him to fuck her while his manhood was burning rock-hard with fire. Leave Meby Gayle Forman, and The Tobacconistby Robert Seethaler were also in contention for this years prize.

Despite the sniggers that greet the annual announcement, the Bad sex award was established in 1993 to raise the tone rather than lower it. The then-editor of the Literary Review, Auberon Waugh, hoped the prize would draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction. Since then it has become the one prize literary authors hope to avoid.

Last year, the singer Morrissey won for a passage in his debut novel List of the Lost, in which the protagonists sexually violent rotation was rendered more laughable by the description: Elizas breasts barrel-rolled across Ezras howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Elizas body except for the otherwise central zone.

However, De Luca joins an illustrious group of past recipients. As well as Morrissey, bad sex writing by the likes of Melvyn Bragg, Sebastian Faulks, Norman Mailer and Ben Okri has also received the unwelcome accolade.

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