Bad sex and other embarrassments

John Dugdale

(London Sunday Times 30-12-12)

Fifty Shades rides high in John Dugdale’s awards for the most toe-curling literary blunders and hatchet jobs of 2012

Hatchet job of the year
“A man living under threat of death for nine years is not to be blamed for occasionally characterising his plight in grandiloquent terms. But one would hope that when recollecting his emotions in freedom and safety, he might bring some ironic detachment to bear on his own bombast. Hindsight, alas, has had no sobering effect on [Salman] Rushdie’s magisterial amour propre. An unembarrassed sense of what he is owed as an embattled, literary immortal-in-waiting pervades his book… Some readers may find, by the end of Joseph Anton, that the world feels rather smaller and grimmer than before. But they should not be unduly alarmed. The world is as large and as wide as it ever was; it’s just Rushdie who got small.”
Zoë Heller on Rushdie’s memoir Joseph Anton, The New York Review of Books

 

Runner-up
“What Professor [Carol Ann] Duffy desires to do I believe — and if so it is a most laudable ambition — is to humanise the linguistic semantic detritus of our particular phase of oligarchical consumerism. But her poem [Death of a Teacher] could easily be mistaken for a first effort by one of the young people she wishes to encourage… This is not democratic English but cast-off bits of oligarchical commodity English such as is employed by writers for Mills & Boon and by celebrity critics appearing on A Good Read or The Andrew Marr Show…”
Geoffrey Hill, Oxford professor of poetry, launches hostilities against the poet laureate in his lecture Poetry, Policing and Public Order

 

Pseud of the year
“I said earlier that my own relationship with Scotland was a figuration of the tendencies my psychogeographic practice reveals in her [Scotland’s] psyche. I should now clarify this…”
Will Self, in his lecture Decontaminating the Union: Post-Industrial Landscapes and the British Psyche

 

Runner-up
“I always start with physicality when I’m writing as a woman. So I always have a vagina and think about having periods.”
Will Self, interview, The Observer

 

Commended
“I think you can tell, when you meet someone, whether they read novels or not. There is some little hollowness if they don’t.”
Philip Hensher, interview, The Guardian

 

Best vocabulary
“Any Teach Yourself Brian Sewell primer would have to include a list of his favourite nouns, which are, in alphabetical order: brouhaha, bully, lackey, lickspittle, minion, panjandrum, ­taradiddle, and windbag. These should be mixed with any of these favourite Sewell adjectives: arrogant, despised, dreary, feeble, foul, futile, grotesque, lubricious, preposterous, pushy, spiteful, tiresome, unctuous and worthless.”
From Craig Brown’s review of Sewell’s Outsider II, The Mail on Sunday

 

Best anecdote
“Another rumour is that [Alan] Bennett knew that his Gloucester Crescent neighbour [Jonathan Miller] would always dash to take a phone call. Therefore, just for a prank, he would wait for Miller to emerge from his house. Having seen him secure all the locks and head down the front steps, Bennett would then dial his number and watch him going frantically into reverse.”
From In Two Minds: A Biography of Jonathan Miller by Kate Bassett

 

Cheeriest author
[After serving Philip Roth with a bagel and orange juice, a young writer working in a New York deli nervously shows him his debut novel, Balls]
“Staring at the cover, he said: ‘Great title. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it myself.’ Barely able to keep myself upright, I told him ‘Thank you’. Then Roth, who, the world would learn 16 days later, was retiring from writing, said, in an even tone, with seeming sincerity: ‘Yeah, this is great. But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.’”
Julian Tepper, The Paris Review

 

Biggest interview blunder
Interviewer: “It can’t be Tom Cruise!” [to play Lee Child’s eponymous 6’ 5” hero in the then yet-to-be-cast movie Jack Reacher]. Lee Child: “There’s no danger of that whatsoever.”
From an Australian interview ­reproduced on Child’s website. Cruise was cast as Reacher a few months later

 

Runner-up
“[Waterstones boss James] Daunt makes no bones about his dislike of Amazon. ‘They never struck me as being a sort of business in the consumer’s interest. They’re a ruthless, money-making devil.”
From an interview in The Independent. Daunt announced a deal with Amazon to showcase Kindles in his stores a few months later

 

Most convincing claim to be the original Christian Grey
“After a year of marriage to the ­controversial French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, his young wife Catherine found five sheets of paper tied with a thin red ribbon, that he had placed in her desk drawer.
This was no love letter, but a ‘contract for marital prostitution’. It laid out the terms of a sadomasochistic relationship that was to span half a century and feature multiple lovers, bondage, whips and orgies…Robbe-Grillet stipulated the humiliations and tortures he set out for her. ‘She will be constantly slapped, bitten, etc,’ he decreed. ‘Her flesh will be bruised with fingernails, preferably in the most sensitive places; finally, she will be whipped, several times per session for as long as her husband desires.’  ”
Report on a memoir by the widow of the nouveau roman pioneer and screenwriter of Last Year in Marienbad, The Sunday Times

 

Least helpful bedside visitor
[After taking LSD, Edna O’Brien is in a Paris hotel room suffering from hallucinations of trolls “swinging from every corner of the ceiling and hissing”. Samuel Beckett arrives, takes a whisky from the mini-bar and sits by her bed]
“It was some time before he asked me what was wrong and I told him of the weird visitations, followed by the arrival of the two visitors, Marguerite Durasand Peter Brook. ‘Ah, that could do it to you,’ he said, and continued in his meditative mode.
It had grown dark and the objects in the room were indistinct. It was a well-known fact that Beckett did not like too much talk. All his works are littered with the aggravation of the nonstop talkers, the quaquaquas. Finally I ventured to ask what he was writing, to which he replied, ‘Nothing much, and what use is it anyhow?’ ”
From Edna O’Brien’s memoir Country Girl

 

Ecstatic puff of the year
“The three plot lines are drawn exquisitely tightly until the satisfying resolution at the end of this indescribably pleasurable and entertaining novel.”
Rachel Johnson, who writes for Condé Nast’s Vogue, pants her appreciation of Condé Nast managing director Nicholas Coleridge’s “witty, sharp and sexy” latest novel in The Lady

 

Author description of the year
“[Simon] Schama doesn’t stop talking…Is he a queen? Actually he isn’t. He’s one of those peculiar fey straights, a male lesbian, more dangerous than the lesbian herself (when riled). He is impassioned by the surrounding clutch of adoring women and sprays them with words and champagne saliva.”
From Rupert Everett, Vanished Years

 

Most embarrassing failure
“In 1989 I failed to play Lord Byron convincingly. It was a low-budget Spanish film about Byron and Shelley, and for some reason was shot in English with English actors. History tells us that Byron had a club foot, and I planned to give him a slight limp. The Spanish director decided that he should have two. And that they should be severe ones.I went along with the idea and it wasnot a success.
Perhaps the original Spanish script was excellent and the translation into English hadn’t done it justice; but I struggled when delivering with great solemnity lines such as ‘Deep downin the lake there is slime and weed, but when I look at you, Mary, I see only my own reflection.’ Or, as Claire Clairmont tried to undress me — ‘Not my boots. Ever.’
The director spoke no English, and all his directing had to be done via a local English academic called Alan. Alan was nice but I don’t think he’d had much experience of actors. He’d come up after a take and say, ‘Gonzalo says, Could you be less wooden?’ ”
Hugh Grant, Five Failures, Areté magazine

 

Best of Pippatips
[Pippatips are tweets spoofing the over-obvious ideas and explanations in Pippa Middleton’s book Celebrate]
“Many ready meals aren’t quite ready to eat, you’ll often need to pop them in a microwave or oven first.”
“The cold, white stuff on many of your lawns is snow — frozen, fluffy rain that falls from the sky.”
“In the cold you can wear hand-socks (called mittens or gloves) to keep your fingers and palms and backs of your hands toasty.”
“Conkers is a game where each player has a conker threaded onto a piece of knotted string and pairs of players take turns to hit each other’s conker.”
“Breakfast in bed can be anything from a pot of tea with a few digestive biscuits to a tray laden with early morning goodies and flowers.”
“In a sack race…the first person to cross the finish line is declared the winner.”
From twitter.com/Pippatips, except the last three, which are from Celebrate itself

 

Worst individual sentence about sex
“Now his big generative jockey was inside her pelvic saddle, riding, riding, riding, and she was eagerly swallowingit swallowing it swallowing it with the saddle’s own lips and maw.”
From Tom Wolfe’s Back to Blood

 

Worst of Fifty Shades of Grey
“I don’t know whether to worship at your feet or spank the living shit out of you.”
“My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid desire.”
“‘I want you sore, baby,’ he murmurs, and he continues his sweet, leisurely torment, backward, forward. ‘Every time you move tomorrow, I want you to be reminded that I’ve been here. Only me. You are mine.’ ”
“‘Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Christian?’ Holy shit. Did I just say that? His mouth drops open slightly, but he recovers quickly. ‘No, Anastasia it doesn’t. Firstly, I don’t make love. I f*** hard. Secondly, there’s a lot more paperwork to do, and thirdly, you don’t yet know what you’re in for. You could still run for the hills. Come, I want to show you my playroom.’ My mouth drops open. F*** hard! Holy shit, that sounds so hot. But why are we looking at a playroom? I am mystified. ‘You want to play on your Xbox?’ I ask. He laughs, loudly.”
From EL James’s Fifty Shades trilogy

 

Link:   http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/culture/books/fiction/article1183481.ece

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