Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Book review: Wetlands, Charlotte Roche

Translation by Tim Mohr
(Fourth Estate Ltd, 2009, 240 pages, RRP £12.99)

After reading about Charlotte Roche’s first book, Wetlands, all over the press, I was excited to receive a review copy and see if it lived up to all of the hype.

They’re right, it is pretty of gross, but I liked it.

Wetlands is written in the style of an internal monologue of the thoughts and actions of the main character, Helen, as she lies in pain in hospital after an operation.

From her hospital bed Helen plots ways to reunite her divorced parents, relives past sexual encounters and revels in her personal mission to spread bacteria ( such as by leaving used tampons in prominent places).

My stomach turned at descriptions of her saving dirt, smeg and crust under her fingernails for a ‘tasty snack later’, drinking a mixture of her and her friends vomit so as not to waste the undigested drugs floating in it, and wiping her pussy around public toilet seats.

I laughed at the ridiculous situations Helen gets herself into; like accidentally tipping a glass of water over herself while trying to masturbate when she ends up stuck on the floor of her hospital room, and her forthright style in persuading her male nurse to photograph her arsehole so she can see the wound.

A lot of what’s been said about Roche (a self proclaimed feminist), and her book Wetlands, has centred around whether it is feminist fiction or not. While I don’t think fiction has to be feminist to contain things of interest to feminists, Wetlands could well fall under the category of feminist fiction.

Roche has created a female lead that is likeable and funny, flawed and idiosyncratic. She manages to win you over because of, not despite of, the gross stuff that could come over as a gimmicky distraction in the wrong hands.

The internal monologue gives Roche the freedom to convey the inner thoughts behind the different ways Helen chooses to present herself to the world, and why.

There are some fairly anti-feminist moments; Helen causes the wound that lands her in hospital when shaving her arse, is un-sisterly to the female nurses in the hospital, almost kills herself while trying to reopen her wound, and ultimately relies on a man to help her out of her situation.

On the other hand, Helen speaks about female sexuality in a way that is rarely heard, nevermind in such talked about mainstream fiction. Throughout the novel Helen repeatedly talks about how she wants to look after herself and be independent, and almost everything she thinks and does flies against the popular myth of what it means to be a woman and be feminine.

Would this book be as infamous if it wasn’t written by a high profile German celebrity? Probably not. Is it ground breaking? No. But it is an easy, page turner of a read, with a lead female who doesn’t conform to mainstream ideas of femininity and a great mixture of the gross and erotic.

1 comment:

laura-ann said...

ha, you beat me to it! my copy arrived monday and i finished it within hours (sick-days rule!)