The New York Times on Charlotte Roche's Wetlands:
With her jaunty dissection of the sex life and the private grooming habits of the novel’s 18-year-old narrator, Helen Memel, Ms. Roche has turned the previously unspeakable into the national conversation in Germany. Since its debut in February, the novel (“Feuchtgebiete,” in German) has sold more than 680,000 copies, becoming the only German book to top Amazon.com’s global best-seller list.
The book, which will be published next year in the United States, is a headlong dash through every crevice and byproduct, physical and psychological, of its narrator’s body and mind. It is difficult to overstate the raunchiness of the novel, and hard to describe in a family newspaper.
“Wetlands” opens in a hospital room after an intimate shaving accident. It gives a detailed topography of Helen’s hemorrhoids, continues into the subject of anal intercourse and only gains momentum from there, eventually reaching avocado pits as objects of female sexual satisfaction and — here is where the debate kicks in — just possibly female empowerment.
Granta had an interview with Roche in May:
I’m convinced that in contemporary society a lot of women have a very messed-up attitude to their own bodies. We’re obsessed with cleanliness, with getting rid of our natural excretions and our body hair. So I wanted to write about the ugly parts of the human body. The smelly bits. The juices of the female body. Smegma. In order to tell that story, I created a heroine that has a totally creative attitude towards her body – someone who has never even heard that women are supposedly smelly between their legs. A real free spirit.
From the way you talk about Feuchtgebiete, it sounds more like a manifesto than a novel. Is it fair to say that there are two books competing against each other in one?
Yes, I think that’s right. Originally I wanted to write a non-fiction book. At the heart of it was always a general feeling: I was really jealous of the fact that men have this whole range of different names for their sexual organs – beautifully detailing what state of arousal they’re in – while us women still don’t really have a language for our lust. For example, I think a lot of women still don’t masturbate, simply because they don’t know how to talk about it.
I wanted to write in a creative way about the female body: exploring it, but also making it strange. I used to shut my eyes when I wrote, trying to shut out all that worn-out vocabulary we have about our physicality and come up with new words for each body part. ‘Cauliflower’ for Helen’s haemorrhoids, ‘pearl trunk’ for her clitoris, and so on. Someone had to do it!