Fourth Estate £7.99 (229pp) (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
Wetlands, By Charlotte Roche
Friday 17 July 2009
Charlotte Roche's novel Feuchtgebiete created a minor literary scandal, when it was published in Germany last year. More exactly translated as "moist patches", this debut is an upfront riposte to the evils of "raunch culture" – a Teutonic paean to all things female, hairy and swampy.
Narrated by 18-year old Helen Memel, who has been suffering from an anal lesion following an intimate "lady shaving" accident, the novel takes place in a proctology unit as she recovers from surgery.
Here, with her butchered bottom on view to the world, she ponders her parents' broken marriage, recalls the lost pleasures of anal sex, and classifies her favourite knicker stains, secretions and "smegmas".
Helen is the kind of girl your granny might describe as a "mucky pup". Treating her body as a walking "garbage disposal", she ingests her own blackheads, vomit and vaginal gloop.
To pass the time in hospital she tries spreading her bacteria far and wide. While Roche's heroine might have more transgressive tastes than most –she visits female prostitutes and has "inserted" a catalogue's worth of kitchen gizmos into her accomodating depths – her plight raises valid questions about body image.
In a world of pneumatic blondes, Roche argues that it's not surprising that women look in the mirror and feel as "ugly as fuck". Written with pervy poise, this tongue-in-cheek polemic wrestles with any number of taboos -"Shit? Piss? Menstruation?"
If asked, should you nominate this as your next book-club choice? The answer would be a cautious yes.
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