Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wetlands by Charlotte Roche

wetlandsWetlands by Charlotte Roche 2008 (2009 for English translation) 229 pgs. 4.75/5 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 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.

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