GETTING IT RIGHT
OK, we’ve all had our fun but what does good sex in literature look like? Here is an edited excerpt from what is widely agreed to be the best sex scene in modern literature, Ian McEwen’s library tryst in his 2001 novel Atonement:
“They held their breath before the membrane parted, and when it did she turned away quickly, but made no sound — it seemed to be a point of pride … Instead of an ecstatic frenzy, there was stillness. They were stilled not by the astonishing fact of arrival, but by an awed sense of return — they were face to face in the gloom, staring into what little they could see of each other’s eyes, and now it was the impersonal that dropped away … Nothing as singular or as important had happened since the day of his birth … Finally he spoke the three simple words that no amount of bad art or bad faith can ever quite cheapen … He had no religious belief, but it was impossible not to think of an invisible presence or witness in the room, and that these words spoken aloud were like signatures on an unseen contract.
They had been motionless for perhaps as long as half a minute. Longer would have required the mastery of some formidable tantric art. They began to make love against the library shelves which creaked with their movement … He forced himself to remember the dullest things he knew — bootblack, an application form, a wet towel on his bedroom floor. There was also an upturned dustbin lid with an inch of rainwater inside, and the incomplete tea-ring stain on the cover of his Housman poems.”