WARNING – If you are easily offended (i.e. you found the sexual content of Fifty Shades more upsetting than the quality of the writing), stop reading now!
I’m not sure I should write this – my family read this blog – but it doesn’t seem right to skip commenting on a book I’ve read and enjoyed. Wetlands is a very rude book. It’s not the crudest I’ve ever read (that honour probably goes to Trainspotting) or the kinkiest (The Fermata) or even the most shocking (American Psycho). It’s also not the sexiest – I’d prefer a roll in the hay with Rupert Campbell-Black – but it is the most relentlessly biologically explicit.
The narrator, Helen, chronicles her sexual and family history as she recuperates in hospital following an intimate operation. Some anecdotes are funny, some sad and some thought-provoking as they challenge accepted notions of what is ladylike and/or what is feminine. The author, Charlotte Roche, clearly has a feminist agenda and its a great thing that a book like this can be written, published and even widely translated. (I initially thought it was American novel and would be keen to read a more Anglo-English translation from the original German.)
The subplot involves Helen hoping that her hospital stay will magically reunite her divorced parents and goes to great lengths to prolong it, resulting in arguably the most disturbing scene of the novel. It quickly becomes clear that rather than celebrating the less palatable aspects of female sexuality, Roche actually portrays Helen’s lack of inhibitions as a desperate cry for attention. She is damaged, unreliable and feels compelled to tell these stories (to the reader and to the male nurse caring for her). In some ways this makes both Helen and the novel more interesting, but it does rather undermine the claim that it’s a taboo-busting challenge to conventional notions of femininity. I enjoyed the book but I feel a little cheated. Helen (a female, European, 21st-century Holden Caulfield) provokes sympathy rather than admiration, and I don’t think that’s because I’m a prude…