“My prick was a plank stuck to her stomach...”
Ask any author what the most difficult part of a novel is, and the answer will likely be not the closing line or plot, but penning a convincing sex scene. From Madame Bovary to modern day Mills & Boon classics, novelists have for centuries attempted to capture the essence of lust, passion, uncertainty and sheer adrenaline that sex conjures up – with varying levels of success.
With the news that Italian author, poet and translator Erri De Luca has won the 2016 Bad Sex in Fiction award for a passage in his novel The Day Before Happiness (which begins with the weirdly wooden quote above), let’s take a look at some of the best, worst and most surreal excerpts from literary sex scenes.
We’ll kick off with De Luca and the other four shortlisted contenders for this year's Literary Review prize, but be warned: their books are far from the strangest erotica that writers have offered up over the ages.
Prepare yourself for some obscure metaphors, explicit language and all-round hanky panky – with a fair smattering of howling, thrusting and Tony Blair along the way...
The Day Before Happiness by Erri de Luca
“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.”
The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis
“When his hand goes to my breasts, my feet are envious. I slide my hands down his back, all along his spine, rutted with bone like mud ridges in a dry field, to the audacious swell below. His finger is inside me, his thumb circling, and I spill like grain from a bucket. He is panting, still running his race. I laugh at the incongruous size of him, sticking to his stomach and escaping from the springing hair below.”
A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
“The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced. She liked to do it more than once, and he was usually able to comply. Bourbon was his gasoline. Between sessions, he poured it at the counter while she lay panting on the sheets. Sweat burnished her body. The lean neck. The surprisingly full breasts. He would down another glass and return.”
The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler
“He closed his eyes and heard himself make a gurgling sound. And as his trousers slipped down his legs all the burdens of his life to date seemed to fall away from him; he tipped back his head and faced up into the darkness beneath the ceiling, and for one blessed moment he felt as if he could understand the things of this world in all their immeasurable beauty. How strange they are, he thought, life and all of these things. Then he felt Anezka slide down before him to the floor, felt her hands grab his naked buttocks and draw him to her. ‘Come, sonny boy!’ he heard her whisper, and with a smile he let go.”
Leave Me by Gayle Forman
“Once they were in that room, Jason had slammed the door and devoured her with his mouth, his hands, which were everywhere. As if he were ravenous.
“And she remembered standing in front of him, her dress a puddle on the floor, and how she’d started to shake, her knees knocking together, like she was a virgin, like this was the first time. Because had she allowed herself to hope, this was what she would’ve hoped for. And now here it was. And that was terrifying.
“Jason had taken her hand and placed it over his bare chest, to his heart, which was pounding wildly, in tandem with hers. She’d thought he was just excited, turned on.
“It had not occurred to her that he might be terrified, too.”
The Age of Magic by Ben Okri
"When his hand brushed her nipple it tripped a switch and she came alight. He touched her belly and his hand seemed to burn through her. He lavished on her body indirect touches and bitter-sweet sensations flooded her brain."
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
"Whatever had held them apart, whatever had restrained their bodies before, was now gone. If the earth spun it faltered, if the wind blew it waited. Hands found flesh; flesh, flesh. He felt the improbable weight of her eyelash with his own; he kissed the slight, rose-coloured trench that remained from her knicker elastic, running around her belly like the equator line circling the world. As they lost themselves in the circumnavigation of each other, there came from nearby shrill shrieks that ended in a deeper howl."
Desert God by Wilbur Smith
"Her hair was piled high, but when she shook her head it came cascading down in a glowing wave over her shoulders, and fell as far as her knees. This rippling curtain did not cover her breasts which thrust their way through it like living creatures. They were perfect rounds, white as mare's milk and tipped with ruby nipples that puckered as my gaze passed over them."
The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham
"He thrusts once, cautiously. He thrusts again, and he's gone, he's off into the careening nowhere. He lives for seconds in that soaring agonizing perfection. It's this, only this, he's lost to himself, he's no one, he's obliterated, there's no Tyler at all, there's only… He hears himself gasp in wonder. He falls into an ecstatic burning harmedness, losing, lost, unmade."
The Hormone Factory by Saskia Goldschmidt
"I kept myself quiet for a moment, kissed her and said, "I'll be very gentle, all right?" Running her tongue over her lips she nodded; she was as hot as boiling water in a distillation flask, and it wasn't long before I was able to really get going. We both came at the same time. I stayed inside her for a few seconds, gazed at her, and smiled."
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
"He had lifted her skirts as she stood with her back to the wall and now had his fingers between her legs. 'Come to me,' she whispered, her breath hot in his ear.'Into me now.' He removed her fumbling fingers from his trousers and freed himself... "
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
"He laid his hand on her shoulder, and softly, gently, it began to travel down the curve of her back, blindly, with a blind stroking motion, to the curve of her crouching loins. And there his hand softly, softly, stroked the curve of her flank, in the blind instinctive caress."
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
"I turned the light off. I pressed against the Object. I took the backs of her thighs in my hands, adjusting her legs around my waist. I reached under her. I brought her up to me. And then my body, like a cathedral, broke out into ringing. The hunchback in the belfry had jumped and was swinging madly on the rope."
Pandora by Jilly Cooper
"The ensuing romp so excited Trafford he nearly fell out of the wardrobe, knocking over a canvas. Furiously Jonathan kicked the door shut. But by this time Sophy was too excited to notice. Later, as she ecstatically cradled a snoring Jonathan to her breasts, she wondered if she’d dreampt it, or had a man really slithered out across the floorboards?"
Atonement by Ian McEwan
"They were beyond the present, outside time, with no memories and no future. There was nothing but obliterating sensation, thrilling and swelling, and the sound of fabric on fabric and skin on fabric as their limbs slid across each other in this restless, sensuous wrestling..."
Dreams, Demons and Desires by Wendy Perriam
"The wind thrust between her legs, its icy blast displaced by solid warmth as he covered her like a dog. The thing inside her jerked and threshed, a rising salmon, plunging home to spawn. 'Yes!' she shouted, relishing the scarlet pain in her knees as he kept grinding them against the barnacled surface of the groyne."
A Journey by Tony Blair
"That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me. On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct."
Peyton Amberg by Tama Janowitz
"When she and Victoria had done it, it had been like trying out some strange Japanese cuisine, something that wriggled, still alive, in a dish. Or having to swallow the contents of a bearded mussel attached to a rock, while all the while one knew the tide was rapidly coming in. She was never going to be a lesbian. Being heterosexual was already strange enough."
Triptych of a Young Wolf by Ann Allestree
"He raised himself to his knees and bent to roll his tongue around her weeping orifice. He was bringing her to a pitch of ecstasy when she heard Madame Veuve, on the landing, put down the supper tray. Whiffs of onion soup strayed over them as he engulfed her. 'Don't stop,' she clamoured; she was nearly there, it was in the bag."
The Food of Love by Anthony Capella
"She felt strange and wild. Her body was just a collection of organs. She was blood and plumbing, like any other creature, and there was nothing that was forbidden about any of it. She gnawed on Tomasso ravenously, like an animal plundering a carcass, and when she had had enough of that she swung her leg over him, like a rider swinging into a saddle, and galloped."
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
"The cloth of her habit caught against the velvet of his coat. She threw back her white neck, swelling with a sigh, and faltering, in tears, with a long shudder and hiding her face, she gave herself up to him."
Kissing England by Sean Thomas
"It is time, time ... Now. Yes. She is so small and compact and yet she has all the necessary features ... Shall I compare thee to a Sony Walkman, thou art more compact and more - She is his own Toshiba, his dinky little JVC, his sweet Aiwa ... Aiwa, aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh ..."
Laughable Loves by Milan Kundera
"She had never undressed like this before. The shyness, the feeling of inner panic, the dizziness, all that she had always felt when undressing in front of the young man (and she couldn’t hide in the darkness), all this was gone. She was standing in front of him self-confident, insolent, bathed in light, and astonished at her sudden discovery of the gestures, heretofore unknown to her, of a slow provocative striptease."
To Love, Honour and Betray by Kathy Lette
"I kissed his mouth ravenously, devouring his neck, earlobes, chest. He broke free with muscular ease, unhooked my bra with composed expertise, found my nipple and flicked his tongue back and forth until it went hard. His towel fell away. Sebastian's erect member was so big I mistook it for some sort of monument in the centre of a town. I almost started directing traffic around it."
A Dead Hand by Paul Theroux
"She went lower, her hands and lips - multiple mouths - taking possession of me, not giving what I wanted, but offering urgent promises. She anticipated what I wanted, which was a pleasure beyond desire, something like a refinement of gluttony, sucking the life from me, all the while soothing me with a satisfied purring in her throat."
Indulge Me by Joanne Rock
"The silken heat of her drove him to the brink. He managed to stave off his own satisfaction only by focusing every ounce of his thoughts on her. Her needs. Her wants. Ignoring the heady scent of floral fragrance and warm woman, Nathan concentrated on finding just the right touch that would please her, make her forget her own name."
Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam
"The smell of his armpits was on her shoulders - a flower depositing pollen on a hummingbird's forehead. They detonated the remains of each other's orgasms with fingers and tongues, areas of their bodies sticking together with sweat that was like the weak glue that holds segments of an orange together."
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
"There was something about her eloquence at that moment and the way she thrust that rosebush under my nose which remains unforgettable ... Her words imbued it with a peculiar fragrance; it was no longer just her private organ, but a treasure, a magic, potent treasure, a God-given thing - and none the less so because she traded it day in and day out for a few pieces of silver."
Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy
"She gripped my arms. Her nails tore into me. Soon we both were burning. Sweat pooled in the ridge of my back as I moved like a tide determined to crash against those ancient rocks. Then – a moment before – inside, I kept very still. Our bodies moved of their own accord."
Love and Longing in Bombay by Vikram Chandra
"He held her by the hip and strained up to her, rising off the bed and reaching in her, saying Megha, and she rolled down to meet him, and at the closest point of their meeting he felt the spill, ecstatic and alive, and in a last moment of thought he asked, is this me? Is this you?"
Mr Peanut by Adam Ross
"'Love me!' she moaned lustily. 'Oh, Ward! Love me now!' He jumped out from his pajama pants so acrobatically it was like a stunt from Cirque du Soleil. But when he went to remove her slip, she said, 'Leave it!' which turned him on even more."
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
"He had complained that Heaven had cast him off, but now the whole breadth of heaven leaned low over his bed, holding out two strong, white, woman's arms to him. His head swimming with joy, he drifted into happiness, as though losing his senses."
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
"Had she pulled on the wrong thing? Had she gripped too tight? He gave out a wail, a complicated series of agonised, rising vowels, the sort of sound she had heard once in a comedy film when a waiter, weaving this way and that, appeared to be about to drop a pile of towering soup plates."
Sashenka by Simon Montefiore
"He pulled down her brassiere, cupping her breasts, sighing in bliss. 'The blue veins are divine,' he whispered. At that moment, a lifetime of unease about this ugly feature of her body was replaced with satisfaction. He licked them, circling her nipples hungrily. Then he disappeared up her skirt."
Snobs by Julian Fellowes
"Suddenly he heaved himself over between her legs, fumbled himself into her, thrust away a few times - no more than six at the outside - and then, with a terrific gasp to tell her that it was now (which she countered with some cries and pants of her own), he collapsed on top of her. The whole business, from the moment he folded the paper, had taken perhaps eight minutes."
Rising Darkness by Cynthia Cooke
"He touched her neck, the softness of his fingertips raising tingles along her skin and spreading throughout her body, bringing a spike of pleasure to her centre. 'What kind of spell have you cast on me?' she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. 'The same kind you've cast on me.' His fingers moved up to her cheek, softly caressing the hardened scars left by the wolves' vicious bites."
Godchildren by Nicholas Coleridge
"Very slowly and gently, he undressed her, covering her white skin with kisses while he caressed her back. To her complete astonishment, she felt herself becoming aroused. 'Shhh, shhh ... ' Marcus was brushing her breasts with his fingertips, all the time shushing and stroking her like a groom reassuring a frightened foal."
The First Casualty by Ben Elton
"'Oh Jesus. Yes!' he gasped as her lips and teeth closed savagely around him and he felt the tip of her tongue poking and probing. Then, just when he was beginning to think that he must explode, her mouth was gone and in its place he felt her hands once more and he smelt the unmistakable smell of oiled rubber."
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland
"I had it now, I felt it now, and, beginning to drive, he soon gave nature such a powerful summons down to her favourite quarters, that she could no longer refuse repairing thither; all my animal spirits then rush'd mechanically to that center of attraction, and presently, inly warmed, and stirr'd as I was beyond bearing, I lost all restraint"
The Reserve by Russell Banks
"Jordan Groves and Vanessa Von Heidenstamm did not notice the approaching darkness. They were still immersed in their lovemaking. It had begun slowly, tenderly, face-to-face, with long, lingering looks at each other, like devoted siblings at the start of a long absence ..."
Eleven Minutes by Paolo Coelho
"It was Heaven. I was the earth, the mountains, the tigers, the rivers that flowed into the lakes, the lake that became the sea. He was thrusting faster and faster now, and the pain was mingled with pleasure, and I could have said: 'I can't take any more', but that would have been unfair, because, by then, he and I were one person."
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
"She was musical and apple-sweet. Her legs twitched a little as they lay across my live lap; I stroked them; there she lolled in the right-hand corner, almost asprawl, Lola the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice, losing her slipper, rubbing the heel of her slipperless foot in its sloppy anklet, against the pile of old magazines heaped on my left on the sofa — and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and improve a system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty — between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock."
Where Do We Go From Here? by Doris Dörrie
"She confiscated the zapper and slid my hand between her thighs. It was wet and warm down there, which was only to be expected, but she might just as well have deposited my hand on a pizza for all the effect it had."
I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
"Slither slither slither slither went the tongue, but the hand that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns - oh God, it was not just at the border where the flesh of the breast joins the pectoral sheath of the chest - no, the hand was cupping her entire right - Now! She must say "No, Hoyt" and talk to him like a dog ... "
Bunker 13 by Aniruddha Bahal
"She is topping up your engine oil for the cross-country coming up. Your RPM is hitting a new high. To wait any longer would be to lose prime time... She picks up a Bugatti's momentum. You want her more at a Volkswagen's steady trot. Squeeze the maximum mileage out of your gallon of gas. But she's eating up the road with all cylinders blazing."