With her jaunty dissection of the sex life and the private grooming habits of the novel's 18-year-old narrator, Helen Memel, Charlotte 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 a million copies, and is the biggest selling book on Amazon anywhere in the world.
The book 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. 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. Clearly the novel has struck a nerve, catching a wave of popular interest in renewing the debate over women's roles and image in society.
About the author
Charlotte Roche was born in 1978 in High Wycombe, but was brought up and lives in Germany. She has been a highly respected presenter on the German equivalent of MTV.
Roche's explicit and provocative debut about an 18-year-old girl with a very active sex life was a bona fide sensation in Germany upon its publication earlier this year. Helen Memel, hospitalized for the treatment of an infected anal lesion, spends much of the novel in the hospital scheming on how to reunite her divorced parents. Between visits by hospital staff and her family, Helen shares her vast sexual experience, details how she rebels against her mother's uptightness by reveling in excretions, and maintains a high level of curiosity about her own body (and, of course, others'). Among the graphic sex scenes and tidbits on her avocado tree growing hobby, Helen dishes gnarly stories about leaving a used tampon in an elevator, dribbling a trail of urine from the bathroom to her bed and eating scabs. Through Helen's mix of eroticism and profanity, Memel attacks conventional views on women's hygiene, sexuality and the definition of femininity. Though there isn't much plot it feels largely like a buffet of filth and screwing Helen's take on life is enough to keep the pages turning.