The one American entry among the final five, Erica Jong's ''Of Blessed Memory,'' was deemed too crude and anatomical to be read aloud, even to that knowing, boisterous audience. Suffice it to say that the nominated passage included the phrases ''jungle flower,'' ''iron stalk'' and ''kingdom of the three slipperies.
So what's going on here? An honest attempt to root out bad writing? Or an indulgence of the well-known upper-class English distaste for excess in any form -- the cast of mind that finds naked emotion, well, you know, embarrassing? It is a fact of English journalism that the well-born, conservative, moral right wing has the best prose style. The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, the organs of the press in which Waugh regularly displays his formidable ironic gifts, are not the places to find much enthusiasm for feminism, single motherhood, gay rights or anybody of the psychotherapeutic persuasion.
Passing judgment on Bad Sex requires total self-certainty. Who are the judges? By what standards are entries judged? Waugh shrugs. A whiff of disapproval this year began to waft over the prize. The critic Mark Lawson called it ''harmfully influential,'' frightening writers away from writing about sex altogether and damaging the novel by removing the erotic. Harvey Porlock, the pseudonymous critic of the book section of The Sunday Times, said that the prize has developed into ''a peculiarly uptight and English form of bullying.
The tempting theory of Englishness, however, falls before the recorded fact that the original idea for the Bad Sex prize came from Rhoda Koenig, a transplanted New Yorker. A shrewd and acerbic critic of fiction on both sides of the Atlantic, she insists that esthetics, not morals, are what is at stake.
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She sides with Oscar Wilde: there are no good books or bad books, just good writing and bad writing. The evidence supports her.
The Life of Evelyn Waugh
When sex writing is bad, it is very bad indeed. Even the best writers are not immune, and no country has a monopoly. Salman Rushdie made last year's short list for ''The Moor's Last Sigh'' ''For ever they sweated pepper 'n' spices sweat''.
Carlos Fuentes was also a nominee in , for ''Diana, the Goddess Who Hunts Alone'': ''I tricked her out like a domestic Venus, not in sea foam but in the foam of my shaving cream Noxzema. It's easy to sneer. So you try it, then. The requirements of the genre are tough.
The body parts must be described ''a relief map of mysteries'' -- Melvyn Bragg, winner for ''A Time to Dance'' ; the sounds too ''Liz squeaked like wet rubber,'' from the winner, ''The Big Kiss,'' by David Huggins. Verbs must be selected. Clenched, writhed, boiled, twisted, slammed? Each week, our editors select the one author and one book they believe to be most worthy of your attention and highlight them in our Pro Connect email alert.
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Log In. Toggle navigation MENU. Email Address. The earliest pieces, , include some mild society-satires, stern musings on Youth "this crazy and sterile generation" , an essay on Waugh specialty Rossetti a recurring subject throughout --as well as an impressive paean to Henry Green's "neglected masterpiece" Living, with a sideswipe at literary critics. Throughout, there's less sharp humor than one might expect.
Most nastily amusing: a send-up of dense, distorting foreign journalists. The subject-matters are often narrow, idiosyncratic, or merely the stuff of workaday-journalism. But connoisseurs of the graver Waugh styles will find stretches of elegant prose in every decade; and Gallagher's extensive introductory material plus a ten-page list of the articles not included here helps to make this a substantial addition to the Waughreference shelf.
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