The Humbling by Philip Roth (Jonathan Cape, £12.99)
"He had let Pegeen appoint herself ringmaster and would not participate until summoned. He would watch without interfering. First Pegeen stepped into the contraption, adjusted and secured the leather straps, and affixed the dildo so that it jutted straight out. Then she crouched above Tracy, brushing Tracy's lips and nipples with her mouth and fondling her breasts, and then she slid down a ways and gently penetrated Tracy with the dildo. Pegeen did not have to force her open. She did not have to say a word – he imagined that if either one of them did begin to speak, it would be in a language unrecognizable to him. The green cock plunged in and out of the abundant naked body sprawled beneath it, slow at first, then faster and harder, then harder still, and all of Tracy's curves and hollows moved in unison with it. This was not soft porn. This was no longer two unclothed women caressing and kissing on a bed. There was something primitive about it now, this woman-on-woman violence, as though, in the room filled with shadows, Pegeen were a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal. It was as if she were wearing a mask on her genitals, a weird totem mask, that made her into what she was not and was not supposed to be. She could as well have been a crow or a coyote, while simultaneously Pegeen Mike. There was something dangerous about it. His heart thumped with excitement – the god Pan looking on from a distance with his spying, lascivious gaze.
"It was English that Pegeen spoke when she looked over from where she was, now resting on her back beside Tracy, combing the little black cat-o'-nine-tails through Tracy's long hair, and, with that kid-like smile that showed her two front teeth, said to him softly, "Your turn. Defile her." She took Tracy by one shoulder, whispered "Time to change masters," and gently rolled the stranger's large, warm body toward his. "Three children got together," he said, "and decided to put on a play," whereupon his performance began."
The Infinities by John Banville (Picador, £14.99)
"Alba has stepped out of her dress in one flowing, stylised movement, like a torero, the object of all eyes, trailing his cape in the dust before the baffled bull; underneath, she is naked. She looks to the side, downwards; her eyelids are so shinily pale and fine that Adam can see clearly all the tiny veins in them, blue as lapis. He takes a floating step forward until his chest is barely touching the tips of her nipples, behind which he senses all the gravid tremulousness of her breasts. She puts her hands flat against his chest and leans into him in a simulacrum of a swoon, making a mewling sound. Her hips are goosefleshed and he can feel all the tiny hairs erect on her forearms. When he kisses her hot, soft mouth, which is bruised a little at one corner, he knows at once that she has been with another man, and recently – faint as it is there is no mistaking that tang of fish-slime and sawdust – for he has no doubt that this is the mouth of a busy working girl. He does not mind.
"They conduct there, on that white bed, under the rubied iron cross, a fair imitation of a passionate dalliance, a repeated toing and froing on the edge of a precipice beyond which can be glimpsed a dark-green distance in a reeking mist and something shining out at them, a pulsing point of light, peremptory and intense. His heart rattles in its cage, a vein beats at his temple like a slow tom-tom. When they are spent at last, and that beacon in the jungle has been turned low again, they lie together contentedly in a tangle of arms and legs and talk of this and that, in their own languages, each understanding hardly a word of what the other says."
Rhyming Life and Death by Amos Oz (Chatto & Windus, £12.99)
"Almost in an instant his desire rises to a level where the pressure to reach a climax stalls and gives way to a sort of sensitive physical alertness, pleased with its own sexual generosity, that gets a kick out of giving her thrill after thrill and postponing his own satisfaction, feeling to see how he can give her more and more pleasure, until she cannot take any more. And so, in complete self-denial – in every sense – with his fingers, now experienced and even inspired, he starts to steer her enjoyment like a ship towards its home port, to the deepest anchorage, right to the core of her pleasure.
"Attentive to the very faintest of signals, like some piece of sonar equipment that can detect sounds in the deep imperceptible to the human ear, he registers the flow of tiny moans that rise from inside her as he continues to excite her, receiving and unconsciously classifying the fine nuances that differentiate one moan from another, in his skin rather than in his ears he feels the minute variations in her breathing, he feels the ripples in her skin, as though he has been transformed into a delicate seismograph that intercepts and instantly deciphers her body's reactions, translating what he has discovered into skilful, precise navigation, anticipating and cautiously avoiding every sandbank, steering clear of each underwater reef, smoothing any roughness except that slow roughness that comes and goes and comes and turns and goes and comes and strokes and goes and makes her whole body quiver. Meanwhile her moaning has turned into little sobs and sighs and cries of surprise, and suddenly his lips tell him that her cheeks are covered in tears. Every sound, every breath or shudder, every wave passing over her skin, helps his fingers on their artful way to steer her home."
The Naked Name of Love by Sanjida O'Connell (John Murray, £12.99)
"This time her body felt real to him, not fragments from a dream, or a surreal hallucination, but there was a certain clumsiness, an awkwardness on his part as if it were the first time for him now that he was bereft of the herb that made him feel how she felt. They were not in tune and it was as if he were splashing about helplessly on the shore of some great ocean, waiting for a current, or the right swimming stroke to sweep him effortlessly out to sea. He felt they were lacking some vital ingredient; she was only partly engaged, the building explosion of sensation that had made her unfurl like a flower, a morning glory greeting the sun, was missing. He stopped.
"What is it? she asked.
"You, he said. I've lost you, he whispered.
"She smiled, wide-eyed, lithe as a cat, she twisted her body, took his hand and showed him what to do; he felt her breath hot against his throat, her pulse quicken, limbs grow taut. He was hanging in deep green water, waves breaking against him, the clean sweep of the shore attainable in a few slow strokes."
A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta by Paul Theroux (Hamish Hamilton, £18.99)
"'Baby.' She took my head in both hands and guided it downward, between her fragrant thighs. 'Yoni puja – pray, pray at my portal.'
"She was holding my head, murmuring 'Pray,' and I did so, beseeching her with my mouth and tongue, my licking a primitive form of language in a simple prayer. It had always worked before, a language she had taught me herself, the warm muffled tongue."
The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave (Canongate, £16.99)
"He slips his hands under her cotton vest and her body spasms and slackens and he cups her small, cold breasts in his hands and feels the hard pearls of her nipples, like tiny secrets, against the barked palms of his hands. He feels the gradual winding down of her dying heart and can see a bluish tinge blossoming on the skin of her skull through her thin, ironed hair.
"'Oh, my dear Avril,' he says.
"He puts his hands under her knees and manoeuvres her carefully so that her bottom rests on the edge of the settee. He slips his fingers underneath the worn elastic of her panties that are strung across the points of her hips, slips them to her ankles and softly draws apart her knees and feels again a watery ardour in his eyes as he negotiates a button and a zipper. It is exactly as he imagined it – the hair, the lips, the hole – and he slips his hands under her wasted buttocks and enters her like a fucking pile driver."
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell (Chatto & Windus, £20)
"Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair. She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn't even bother to lower her panties, just pushed the lace to one side and spread her buttocks with both hands: in the slit, nestling in hair, her anus gently contracted. I spit on it. 'No,' she protested. I took out my penis, lay on top of her, and thrust it in. She gave a long stifled cry. I was crushing her with all my weight; because of the awkward position – my trousers were hindering my legs – I could only move in little jerks. Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: 'I'm going to pull the lever, I'm going to let the blade drop.' She begged me: 'Please, fuck my pussy.' – 'No.' I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.
The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn (Jonathan Cape, £12.99)
"'What are you thinking?'
"'I'm thinking … of all the things I'd like to do to you.'
"Pressing her down so that she lay lengthways on the sofa, he unbuttoned her coat, but didn't remove it. He felt her body's warmth through the layers of clothes; slowly, he unbuttoned the woollen cardigan she was wearing; he kissed her stomach through the silk blouse underneath, and the sweet embroidered vest beneath that. Then he pushed these back too so that he could taste the pale skin, and felt her trembling against his mouth. His hands caressed the sharp jut of her hip bones, and fingered the buttons at the side of her skirt which he anticipated trouble with, unless … He had the sensation of journeying through veils, of a headlong descent towards disclosure, and the prospect of pausing to fiddle with more buttons was not to be borne. Her breathing had become shallower, and her face was turned distractedly to one side. His head had drawn level with her lap, and as he lifted up her skirt he recalled an image of Bella at Slater Street casually flipping back the dark hood from her camera and removing the plate. Feeling the snaps and entanglements of her underclothes as a delay to his progress, he placed a kiss, quite reverently, on the ivory-coloured sheath of her pants; through the material he traced smooth skin, then the wiry tussock below. The thin silk felt like water purling through his fingers. His hands squirmed beneath the cool curve of her buttocks and stroked the dimple at the base of her spine. Then he dipped his head lower until his mouth grazed the tip of the inverted white triangle that ended between her legs; he brought a hand around and, parting her legs slightly wider, allowed his finger to draw back the pouched silk. It felt to him as if he were tending a delicate weeping wound, and as he probed it with his tongue he heard her moan quietly. Excited by the oysterish intricacy of her he sucked and licked the salty folds until they became sweet, and slowly she arched her back to heighten the angle of provocation. As her gasps grew more urgent he glanced upwards and saw her face almost angrily flushed and straining, his mouth now breathing in the wetness of her until, with an agonised cry, she stiffened and shuddered down the length of her torso."
Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy (Beautiful Books, £7.99)
"My mouth lingered on hers; I tasted her. I felt for her tongue with mine. I felt the blood surging through my body. We pressed against one another.
"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. Hannah's body was swallowing, digesting all that was mine to give. For those final moments, we existed seamlessly – all memory negated by a desire that both belonged to us and controlled us.
After, we kept very still, like the only two roots of the forest."
Ten Storey Love Song by Richard Milward (Faber & Faber, £10.99)
"Let's have sex, they think simultaneously, couples having strange mind-reading powers after months and months of trying to figure each other out. Panting, Georgie starts rubbing her hands round Bobby's biological erogenous zones, turning his trousers into a tent with lots of rude organs camping underneath. Bobby sucks all the freckles and moles off her chest, pulling the GD bib wheeeeeeeeeee over her head and flicking Georgie's turquoise bra off her shoulders then kissing her tits, and he's got so much energy – plus he's very impatient – Bobby tugs off his sweaty sweater himself and gives Georgie a helping hand with his zip. Then comes the enormous anticipation of someone putting their mitts on your cock and balls. Georgie smiles to herself and keeps him hanging on for a bit, which in a way is even better though it makes the Artist want to explode and after one or two tugs he moans 'whoah' then screams 'whoah!' and Georgie lets go giggling, then suddenly her face is all serious and Bobby pulls her polished pine legs apart and slithers a hand up her skirt where her fanny's got a bit of five o'clock shadow like a pin cushion but her lips are nice and slippy, and he slides some lubricunt round and round, mixing clockwise with anticlockwise with figure 8 until Georgie's shagging the air with pleasure bashing her feet about. Then, Bobby starts scrabbling frantically across the carpet for Mr Condom, sending five or six multicolour Durexes flying through the air, and he struggles getting the packet open and Georgie has to roll Mr Condom down Mr Penis for him and she has to help insert him into Mrs Vagina."
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