Tongue Tied

A friend of mine sent me this description of a kiss from ON CHESIL BEACH by Ian McEwan, one of the New York Times’ "Best 100 Novels of 2007."  If there’s an award for bad writing about sex, I would nominate this bit:

With his lips
clamped firmly onto hers, he probed the fleshy floor of her mouth, then moved
around inside the teeth of her lower jaw to the empty place where three years
ago a wisdom tooth had crookedly grown until removed under general anesthesia.
This cavity was where her own tongue usually strayed when she was lost in
thought. By association, it was more like an idea than a location, a private
imaginary place rather than a hollow in her gum, and it seemed peculiar to her
that another tongue should be able to go there too. … He wanted to engage her
tongue in some activity of its own, coax it into a hideous mute duet. … She
understood perfectly that this business with tongues, this penetration, was a
small-scale enactment, a ritual tableau vivant, of what was still to come, like
a prologue before an old play that tells you everything that must happen.


13 thoughts on “Tongue Tied”

  1. If I understand the reviews correctly, the story is about newlyweds who don’t get laid. Which makes this passage sublime.

  2. Hang on – that’s not bad writing at all – it fits perfectly in IM’s theme of a disastrous first (marital) sexual encounter.
    Did your correspondent read the book ? It’s not IM’s best but it’s well written and utterly consistent as a tragedy of manners.

  3. I’ve had wisdom teeth removed, and not only does the gap fill in by itself over a few months, even if there was one there it would be impossible for somebody’s else’s tongue to reach it.

  4. Actually, Simon H, it is bad writing. And it certainly does not fit into the theme of the book, unless IM’s theme was bad writing.
    So often in the book world, people (usually critics) mistake a powerful theme or subject matter for good writing.
    You can be writing about the most emotional, searing, themes of all-time, but unless you’re doing it well, it’s still bad writing.
    McEwan has written some terrific books. But this one (yes, I read the entire thing), while having certain sections of excellence, is generally awful.


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