Shire Hell takes annual prize, while judges acclaim John Updike's lifetime achievement
The Literary Review's annual award was presented to Johnson for her novel Shire Hell (Penguin) at a ceremony at London's In and Out club.
Johnson was singled out for her novel's slew of animal metaphors, including comparing her male protagonist's "light fingers" to "a moth caught inside a lampshade", and his tongue to "a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop". Literary Review deputy editor Tom Fleming was also disturbed by the heroine's "grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside".
"You sort of think it might be a typo, but she is actually referring to his penis as him. It's a mixture of cliché and euphemism, but it's also very spirited – A plus for effort," he said. "All the entries were equally awful this year, but Rachel Johnson had the worst metaphors, and the worst animal metaphors."
Johnson said it was an "absolute honour" to win, taking her place alongside former winners including Norman Mailer, Sebastian Faulks and Tom Wolfe. "I'm not feeling remotely grumpy about it. I know that men with literary reputations to polish might find it insulting," she said, "but if you've had a book published in the year any attention is welcome, even if it's slightly dubious attention of this sort."
She received a plaster foot – intended to be an abstract representation of sex, according to Fleming - presented by The Wire actor Dominic West, at tonight's ceremony, attended by 400 guests.
Updike was not present to accept his lifetime achievement award. "Four times in a row is unique," said Fleming. "He's written great sex in the past but this seems to be gratuitous."Read the full hilarious account at The Guardian online. I wish I had been there!