Wetlands – Charlotte Roche

Please note: The book thoughts on Wetlands by Charlotte Roche may not be for the faint hearted or prudish, if you would like to skip this post then you can discuss Agatha Christie just here instead.

I know it sounds a bit silly putting that at the start of the post today (though as is human nature you might all read on regardless) but I wouldn’t want to offend anyone  and with a book like this I think that its worth popping that note in first before going any further, so there is still time for you to click away. All joking aside I do think that books like Wetlands should come with some kind of warning somewhere on the book as I don’t think any synopsis could quite prepare you for what you are about to read.

Wetlands is told through the eyes of 18 year old Helen Memel from her hospital bed after an accident during a rather intimate shaving incident. Starting as she means to go on she tells us not only of just how she got into this situation but also of the last time she came into hospital to be sterilized as soon as she became of age. From then on there is a fascination with the wound itself which takes us into a graphic and incredibly explicit account of her sex life (seriously everything is discussed, I wont say too much in case I get banned on this site) and her own personal hygiene regime.

At first I will admit I was titillated and then I embraced how Charlotte Roche writes so bluntly about all things concerning women and sex. Then I started to become grossed out by it all. I didn’t need to know about the narrator’s secretions in such detail again and again, to give you an example I will use the word ‘slime’ as it is used a lot in this context. I also didn’t need to know what she thought about her Dad’s anatomy or the fact she likes to eat other people’s spots. That’s all the gory details I shall go into for fear of offending anyone who has read this far further.

As Helen discusses all these things in minute detail her character and back story briefly glimpse through and actually we have a very, very interesting narrator. Helen is clearly torn up after her parent’s separation and her mothers attempted suicide and murder of her brother and how she uses her sexuality to deal with all of these conflicting emotions in her head. It was in fact those glimpses that made me read on. It’s a book I can’t say I disliked, though I didn’t love it. 

It is a book that made me think about what constitutes a graphic, open and supposedly feminist coming or age story (though if this is what girls are going through around the world heaven help us) or a book designed to sell on how shocking and explicit it is. For me the jury is still open, I would suggest other people give it a read to decide, should they have the guts for it.

I have nothing against graphic/controversial/explicit fiction and actually think some of it is much needed to tell the tale. American Psycho, which I enjoyed and found fascinating but would be unlikely to read again because of how darkly graphic it is, wouldn’t be so powerful if it wasn’t for the parts that make for incredibly difficult reading. Novel Insights has often recommended reading Anais Nin who is a classic author and does, from the two short stories I have read so far, write graphic erotica but its beautifully written and also thought provoking.

It does seem odd yesterday was writing about Dame Agatha Christie and now this, shows I read a diverse selection I guess! So the question that this book has brought up that I shall put out there for discussion is… when does the graphic become the shocking to sell, have you any examples or feelings on this?

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28 Comments

Filed under Charlotte Roche, Fourth Estate Books, Review

28 responses to “Wetlands – Charlotte Roche

  1. I bet that was a difficult review to write! I think you handled it well, but I’m not really sure that I’d enjoy that book. I think I’ve seen it previously in Borders.

    • Thanks Verity its a tough one to tackle really as I am all for people writing truthful and if needs be explicit accounts but this came across more in the ‘shocking to shift copies way’.

  2. chasing bawa

    Interesting review. I’ve heard of this title and have been curious. A few years ago I read Hitomi Kanehara’s Snakes and Earrings, a Japanese book which won one of the two most prestigious prizes in Japan when the author was only 21, and was profoundly disturbed by the graphic sex and violence in the novel. Overall I’m glad I read it, but sometimes I wish I knew less about certain things in life. So I haven’t gone back to read the author’s other books yet.

    • You see the fact it went on to win some of the most prestigious awards suggests that it was wonderfully written and though shocking that wasnt the whole purpose of the book. At the moment, though it changes, I think I feel this was written well but definately to shock and sell.

  3. I’ve been in two minds whether I wanted to read this novel. I was already 70% sure it wasn’t for me, but – and this is where I guess the book might pick up a lot of sales – I was really curious about whether it was “that bad”, if you know what I mean.

    Thanks to your review, I’ve saved myself a few quid. I’m definitely NOT going to read it. Not because of the graphic sex, though. Because of the eating other people’s spots. Bleurgh. No thanks!

    • That was the bit that got to me, why would you eat someone elses spots (and thats not all she eats am saying no more or shall heave) I dont mind being shocked but there were moments in this book where I wanted to possibly be a bit sick.

      That said its not a hideous book, and actually the character is fascinating. It just has some paragraphs that arent for the squirmish.

  4. I haven’t heard of this book, but you have written a fantastic review. I admit that I am curious, but I think I’ll have a quick peek in a bookshop to see what it is like and probably not want to read any more.I don’t mind graphic sex if it is relevant to the story, but I struggle with violence.

    I don’t like books which set out to be contraversial. G by John Berger won the Booker prize back in the 70s and shocked people back then, but I felt that the sex wasn’t relevant to the story – it was as though it had just been added to stretch the boundaries. It feels strange reading it now, as we are used to much more graphic details, but without the shock value G is a very dull book. I wonder how interesting this book would be if you removed everything shocking?

    • Hi Jackie as Claire and Kim have mentioned below this book got ridiculous hype back at the start of the year (and actually when I got sent the book) but the level of hype put me off.

      This book could have been a very interesting short story with out all the shocking parts about a very messed up young lady.

  5. My goodness, how did Jackie miss this one?? This book arrived with the biggest promotional push in recent times — you couldn’t escape mention of it in the press in late Jan/Feb, she was bloody everywhere, to the point where I grew soooooo sick of the PR I switched off. There is such a thing as over-exposure, and Ms Roche and her publishers crossed the line IMHO.

    I like your sensitive review… How did you write it without using the word vagina?? Hehehe. (Sorry, if I’ve used the word you were trying to avoid.)

    • Hahahaha that comment has made me laugh and laugh. No vagina wasnt one of the words that I was trying not to say as its quite clinical and actually lady garden words I was fine with it was more the squelchy kind of wording I had issue with and just all the descriptions of wounds.

      The hype is what has led me not to read the book till now.

  6. I’m so interested in finding out how feminist this book is, but I just don’t think I could get through the descriptions (spots ugh). Maybe I could just ask you how much you think this is a genuinely open, boundary removing feminist novel?

    • Being a bloke and also not really having read much feminist fiction I cant really say. I am planning on lending this to Novel Insights who loves feminist work and maybe she will be a better judge… well I know she will be.

      In my opinion if I was pushed I would say that the chatacter is too much of a victim, though she things she is strong she is clearly just messed up, for it to be empowering and feminist.

  7. Like Kim, I found that Wetlands was everywhere for a while and the hype did catch my attention. I feel a bit turned off (hah – excuse the pun!) by the spots etc. as it sounds more disgusting than controversially illuminating. I agree with Jodie that I am still intrigued by its potential breaking of feminism boundaries but it isn’t top of my TBR list.

    I’ve read Filth by Irvine Welsh and Crash by JG Ballard so by rights nothing should shock or offend me (loved in a way the first and loathed the second). Nin’s prose is rich and beautiful.

    • Pun excused. I almost made several in the thoughts and have almost again twice in comments ha. The spots, scabs and some of her sexual practices are actually very disgusting and that didnt shock me more sicken me and I found it very difficult to read and ask people who know me, I am quite iron stomached.

      I will read more of the Nin collection I have soon.

  8. Dot

    Great review Simon, I’m sure it can’t have been the easiest thing to write. I think some books can be very shocking but if it is clear that they have been written simply for that purpose then I don’t really have any interest in them.

  9. sounds like a female Chuck Palahniuk. Which, while I like, still makes me squirm.

    Seriously though, I can take all of the sex stuff, but when it comes to…waste matters…I can’t do it.

  10. I’m not sure I can add anything to what has already been said, except that for me personally, graphic sex does not bother me in the least if it makes sense. But there is such a thing as writing it only for the shock value, which is just cheap and hokey. I’d say you handled it all very swimmingly!

    • Graphic sex isnt an issue for me at all either, like you say, if its in context or is right for the book and when a book is just about that and not more I guess its the right context in some ways.

  11. I’m not keen on sex in books or films, give me a door closing any time just to suggest what might happen next and heh doesn’t everyone keep one foot on the floor at all times?
    Consequently, I almost stopped reading “Timoleon Vieta Come Home” by Dan Rhodes because of a blow by blow account of gay sex. I could have sat down and done a painting of the scene it was so well described. I was going to say i percevered but that is the wrong word. I carried on reading because if it had been a film I would have closed my eyes and said “la la la, I’m not watching, tell me when this bit is over”. The sex WAS relevant and was so much part of the story that in all honesty it probably couldn’t have been left out.
    Don’t think i”ll be reading about the zit-nibbler though.

    • Hahahaha Zit Nibbler thats hilarious hahahaha. I think if sex is part of the story such as in Lust Caution and also in the film of it then its perfectly justified. Zit nibbling is not.

      I have read Gold by Dan Rhodes but not the one you mention. I have a bit more respect for Rhodes after this (and I already had some as loved Gold so much) because he is straight and I would imagine gay sex scenes are quite difficult for a straight man to write. Or have I now just said something controversial hahaha.

  12. Amy

    A very entertaining and well-done review! I haven’t heard of this book and am a bit interested. I’ll probably check it out next time I’m at the bookstore. I don’t get offended easily and I don’t think it’s unusual for young women to use their sexuality to cope like some use drugs and alcohol. I haven’t read many books like this but I did read Portnoy’s Complaint. I agree that American Psycho is very dark and graphic.

    • I think if people are intrigued they shoudl give it a read I doubt it will scar anyone for life. I would have just liked to have gotten in the lead characters head more which considering she is pretty much the only character shoudl have been easy.

  13. There was a lot of publicity about this book in the Australian media when it first came out (as there was everywhere around the world by the sound of it) but I had never actually read a review in the blogging world so thanks for sharing your honest thoughts. I don’t think this is the book for me – I’m not really worried or put off by the grosser elements – I just don’t think I would be all that interested to read about it!

    • I think everywhere that has released this book so far has really gone hype and PR mad as with a book this shocking they want to shift lots of copies. Its actually something that has made me question the publishers, who I like, as why cant they do this with books that are just great literature rather than spending huge amounts on a shocker?

  14. Hi, Simon! You do have diverse reading tastes! I’m intrigued by the book’s premise, since I’m not really that squeamish when it comes to these topics. (In fact, some of my friends mention that I’ve already been desensitized.) Sometimes, we need to tell it as it is — no sugarcoating. It’s very refreshing to read these novels, don’t you think? I’ll check this one out. Thansk for the fabulous review!

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