Wetlands by Charlotte Roche

wetlandsWetlands by Charlotte Roche
2008 (2009 for English translation)
229 pgs.

Wetlands is a book that not all will love. In fact, I would bet money on it that many people will be just plain disgusted by it. And I can’t say that I necessarily blame them. Parts of it disgusted me too…But I still really liked this novel. Wetlands is a shocker. Not in a “big reveal” sort of way or in a thriller sort of way, but in it’s subject matter and in it’s language. There were parts of this novel that literally evoked nausea in me. It’s that disturbing at times. But it’s so worth the read. I know that because I was so upset when the book ended.

Wetlands focuses on our young narrator, Helen, an 18 year old girl that’s seen and been through a lot more than she should have been at her age. The book opens with her describing her hemorhoids and she’s quickly sent to the hospital where she needs to have surgery on them. It’s here, in her hospital room where her story takes place with flashbacks to her past. Helen is less than sanitary…let’s put it that way. Though she is obsessed with the idea of personal heigene and the standards that our society puts on it. Helen is obsessed with bodily fluids of all types as well in addition to anything that the body produces…be it hers or someone else’s. Her language is not blunted, she describes things in a very raw matter, favoring the “p” word when referring to her genitals.

Helen has had many of her own sexual encounters, some of them paid for, starting at a very young age. Her suitors have ranged from people her own age to people many years older than her when she was many years younger. She’s experienced the life of her derranged mother which has certainly left some trauma issues to be dealt with, and her parents are divorced which greatly upsets her. But none of this is looked into in depth in the novel, we only see glimpses of it in Helen’s flashbacks. The main focus is on her obsession with her own body, with bacteria, with uncleanliness.

It’s been said that this novel is a major feminist work, and I can certainly see that. Nothing of the feminine is left untouched here from the subject of periods, discharges, sex and shaving. It’s all their in graphic detail and nothing is blanketed over. Roche addresses feminine heigene in this novel straight on and challenges the standards with the character of Helen. It’s almost liberating in a way to read this book and I’m not even a woman. But the extremes of which she describes allow the lesser extremes to be challenged…does that make sense?

What’s never addressed in this novel, and I believe it’s intentionally not addressed are Helen’s trauma issues. The story is told through Helen’s point of view and I don’t think she would realize them all. But many of her behaviors are quite common among survivors of severe trauma. Many people who are abused as children whether it be physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or who experience some type of traumatic even become obsessed with their bodies. I see it all the time. Children who are sexually abused often become constipated, incontinent of their bowels or urine, or become obsessed with the fluids and excrement itself. I know it’s disturbing, but it’s also fascinating in a way how the mind works. So is this novel. It’s an examination of these trauma issues and it’s a story that’s shocking, but has a deep message underneath it’s shock. Not recommended for those easily offended and definitely not recommended for children.


10 Responses

  1. Hmm, doesn’t sound like the kind of thing Bookfool could stomach, but in your descriptions I detected a hint of similarity to the poetry book I recently read, “Sometimes my heart pushes my ribs” by Ellen Kennedy. I didn’t care for the more graphic descriptions, but I liked the way she observed life. Anyway, I’ll give this one a skip. How are you doing, Chris?

  2. I’m with Nancy – doesn’t sound like a book I’ll be reading any time soon. But, I have a question for anyone who might want to answer it – as long as you’re okay with it, Chris. I don’t want to hijack your blog…

    Why, for so many women, does the concept of ‘feminism’ equate to women being as vile and crude as possible?

    It makes no sense to me. And, I’ve been on the front lines when it comes to fighting for a woman’s right to do what was once a ‘man’s job’.


  3. Bookfool, Nah, I don’t think this is one for you. I actually thought about you while I was reading this one because I remember you saying you don’t like the sex scenes in Spiced…you DEFINITELY wouldn’t like this one, lol. I’ve been ok…I’ve had the migraine week from hell…I think today marked 5 in just this past week. You know it’s bad when you start losing track. Oh, and I definitely have to try out that poetry book! I’m going to go look for it now πŸ™‚

    CJ, Nope, I don’t think you’d like this one either, lol. And I’m happy that you hi-jacked my blog πŸ™‚ I like it when people start conversations in the comments. I’m actually totally with you on that CJ despite obviously not being a feminist πŸ˜‰ Though I am all about women’s rights. I don’t understand why feminism is equated as being vile and crude either. I’m sure this book was written as a feminist novel, but I didn’t read it that way. That’s why I stressed that other’s have deemed it so. The only thing I can see in feminism being portrayed as in your face is that it makes it seem ridiculous that women aren’t socially accepted to engage in less graphic behaviors…sort of like give you the big shock to make the normal behaviors more palatable. Like a woman growing out all of their body hair to prove a point that if men can do it, why can’t we? And I agree with that, only it’s become so taboo these days…so it’s challenged with the extremes….I don’t even know if I’m making any sense here :p But I’m with you…I don’t think feminism should be equated with crude behaviors at all…

  4. It’s nice to hear your added perspective on this, with the abuse issues and everything. It makes sense that coming from Helen’s perspective she wouldn’t talk about those connections, as it’s doubtful she’d recognize them. But I’m glad you shared these thoughts, because I might have wondered but been afraid I was trying to read too much into things. If that makes any sense. I’ll definitely be checking to see if the library has this one.

  5. Wow, what a read this must have been! I’m not easily offended but I can be squeamish in regards to body fluids…but I’m still intrigued.
    Just as long as the shocking parts are not for the sake of being shocking, it’s worth a read!

  6. I waffled on whether I wanted to add this to my to-be-read list. It’s outrageous enough to be interesting, but I’ve read a few less-than-stellar critical reviews.

    As for the feminism / crudeness issue, I don’t personally think most feminists opt to act crudely. I think there are many legitimate ways to push an agenda of equality without resorting to low-brow sensationalism. However, I don’t see a problem with using crudeness as a tool either. Historically, traditional gender roles have allowed men to be crude (read Shakespeare’s bawdier works or visit a blue-collar bar during happy hour) but have dictated that women should be restrained, polite, delicate, etc. I think it certainly is reasonable for some feminists to co-opt crudeness in order to challenge these traditional gender roles. Their methods are extreme but not totally unwarranted.

    I think it’s important to remember, though, that while some feminists do go this route, one shouldn’t conflate those individuals or their methods with the broader feminist movement, which is multi-faceted and by and large very civil.

  7. Debi, I definitely think you’d like this one…though be prepared to be disturbed :/ Hope your library has it!

    Valentina, I’m not easily offended either..and this book didn’t offend me, it just grossed me out at times. lol…It’s definitely not shocking just for the sake of shock. By the end of the book I thought it was an extremely meaningful story.

    Lily, I’d say add it to your TBR list! I’ve read some bad reviews of it too, but I think a lot of them are people who are just turned off by the language. As for your views on feminism, can I just say “what she said” for now on? lol…you put my thoughts on it perfectly!

  8. I’m not exactly the most prudish of readers but I plan to avoid this one like the plague. There was a piece about it in one of the weekend supplements a few months ago and I couldn’t even read that.

    I agree with CJHill – I can’t see anything empowering in women appealing to the lowest common denominator. If you want gender equality in behaviour, why can’t men raise their standards, rather than women losing theirs?

  9. […] Wetlands – Charlotte Roche (via Stuffs As Dreams Are Made On…) […]

  10. You did a fabulous job with this review!! I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on how traumatic experiences can lead to body obsession. I’ve got so many thoughts tumbling around in my head about this book. I did enjoy it, as much as a person can enjoy something like this. Some of the themes I found most strong were the search for power, dealing with abandonment and the realization that you aren’t in control, and also the search for acceptance. I really need to hash these ideas out some. And I swear to god the whole grape and trail mix thing is going to drive me insane – there is something very symbolic happening there!

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