Alison Walsh writing in The Courier mail, April 25, 2009
Wetlands, Charlotte Roche, 4th Estate, A$29.99
DON'T think for a minute this is a book about watery ecosystems. People fainted at readings of the book in Germany and it wasn't at exquisite descriptions of mangroves and pelicans.
Written by a 30-year-old, British-born presenter of the German equivalent of MTV, Wetlands has topped Amazon's global bestseller list and ignited debate as to whether it's grunged-up obscenity or a contribution to feminist literature.
The novel opens with a description of narrator Helen's haemorrhoids and never leaves the proctology ward of a German hospital where the 18-year-old is an in-patient after surgery on a suppurating wound on her anus, the result of a shaving injury.
Helen fills the tedious bed-bound hours by doing a mental stocktake of her prodigious sexual experiences, which include amorous encounters with men, female prostitutes, her father's unwashed barbecue tongs, shower heads and avocado stones and by fantasising about her male nurse, who she also asks to photograph her open wound.
When she's not thinking about sex she's indulging in another hobby – spreading bacteria.
Roche has said that her book began as a serious treatise railing against the feminine hygiene industry – and it may have some contribution to make there – but when Helen recalls a night out when she ended up drinking vomit, snacks on pathology samples and self-harms to stay in hospital longer, she simply seems disturbed. If the point is to show a woman who has reached a higher level of being by throwing off social repressions tied to body image and hygiene and who is totally uninhibited sexuality, one wonders if it's counterproductive to also depict her as mentally ill?
However, if Roche's intention was to create a catalogue of shock and gore then she has it down pat.