The whining ex-frontman from The Smiths has been having a bad week. He’s written a navel-gazing novel of apparently unremitting tedium, which may not surprise anybody familiar with his lyrics.
In particular he’s had some real stick about how he writes about sex. The Times, no less, has carried a two page feature with various columnists parodying Mr Miserable in the style of different authors.
To be fair to the bloke, it’s a tough subject to get right, as I have pointed out before, very early on in my blogging career. August 2012 to be accurate.
Sex Is Boring
It is. Not in the actuality, but in its hopelessly inept renderings in literature. Very few authors ever get it right, so why do they bother?
Sometimes the problem is simply tweeness. The prosecution calls David Herbert Richard Lawrence to the stand. Really, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Infuriatingly bad portrayals of sex. Just horribly twee. All that twining flowers nonsense. Yikes! It may be what floats your boat, and I freely admit to having done a few twee things in my time, but I have the decency and self respect not to write about them. DHL’s stuff is made worse because it’s compounded by the old ‘she fancied a bit of rough’ cliché. Dire.
Some verges on the pornographic. The prosecution calls Erika Leonard James. I’m not a prude by any means, and if people want to indulge in a bit of S&M behind closed doors, let them get on with it. Don’t write about it. The Marquis de Sade set this ball rolling, and by now someone should have had the sense to bat it out of play.
Some is just plain bad. The Literary Review’s Bad Sex In Fiction award has some really big hitters in its list of alumni; Melvyn Bragg, AA Gill, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer (no big surprise there). There’s better to be read in the letters pages of any half decent topshelf magazine.
But one of the big problems is that writers often fail to capture how funny sex is. I myself like sex, and when it goes right it’s an almost transcendental experience. Sometimes it’s just OK, and other times it’s not even OK. Anyone who’s ever had sex can tell you that. But it is funny. An immensely pleasurable and rewarding pastime, but it’s is funny. So many authors simply miss that.
Lastly, nobody believes anyone else has sex; they don’t. They know others must do, hence the number of babies that come into this world, but really they don’t believe it. So any description must, by its very nature, be a hiding to nothing. Nobody believes it.
Last line of argument. Sex is private. Whether it’s good, or indifferent, or bad, it’s private. I’ve never discussed my sex life with anyone but my partners, and I certainly wouldn’t do so in print.
So, my remedy? Don’t write about sex in graphic detail. It happens, so tell the reader it has, and leave it to the imagination. They always say the best sex is in the mind.