Wetlands – Charlotte Roche
This time last year, Charlotte Roche was pretty much a nobody in the UK, despite being born in High Wycombe in 1978. She and her parents moved to Germany so she was brought up there and visited relatives in the UK a few times a year. In Germany, however, Charlotte has been a somebody since the mid-1990s when she started work on Viva, the German equivalent of MTV. From there, the only way was up.
Now, Charlotte has truly made a name for herself after writing and publishing a novel. First published in Germany, there were wrangles in the UK over the rights, which were eventually won by 4th Estate. Wetlands is now riding high in best-seller charts and has been thoroughly covered by the press, with wildly varying reviews coming out of the woodwork.
Wetlands tells the story of eighteen-year-old Helen Memel. After an accident whilst shaving her private parts, Helen has landed herself in hospital to have an operation on her bottom. Most people would try to hide something like this, but Helen is quite unashamed. After introducing herself and explaining why she is in hospital, Helen goes on to reminisce about how she began shaving her anus and describing in graphic detail the haemorrhoids which were plaguing her before the accident. This kind of information sets the tone for the rest of the book. Readers are told more than they could ever want to know about a character with questionable hygiene habits. Helen Memel has incredibly different ideas about cleanliness and yet prides herself on never having had an infection down there. Odd indeed.
On the one hand it’s great to have a strong female narrator who isn’t obsessed with make-up, shopping and babies, but on the other hand, the book is just cringe-worthy. It’s actually very well-written and translated and I whizzed through it pretty quickly, but my personal opinion is that it was written purely to shock. Despite its close description of the female body and all (and I mean ALL) its functions, there’s no eroticism. There’s just so much deliberate oddity going on that you’ll find it difficult, if not impossible to find some sexiness. Roche is trying to make the point that being obsessed with hygiene isn’t a good thing, which is fair enough. However, instead of having a character that is perhaps just a little bit grubby, you have a character which does things that wouldn’t even enter the heads of most women. Indeed, I found myself heaving and slamming the book shut on more than one occasion.
This is not a book for those of you who are squeamish. It’s also not a book for those looking to get off, unless urine, faeces and menstrual blood do it for you. This is basically a book for those, like me, who were morbidly curious enough to see what all the fuss in the media was about. I class myself as being pretty unshockable, particularly when it comes to sex and body parts. But Wetlands is in a class of its own. If nothing else, read it to satisfy your curiosity. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.