I’ve decided to kick off my first ever erotic reads book review here on The Secret World of Cydney, with a taboo-busting work that heavily divided readers and critics when it was released in 2009.
Wetlands by Charlotte Roach opens with a discussion of haemorrhoids and lets face it, who doesn’t love a good chat about haemorrhoids and the perils of attempting anal sex with them? With such a provocative opening, it’s fair to say that the book continues in the vain. There’s very little the narrator, Helen Memel, won’t talk about. After all, you’ve got to give brownie points to a woman who, “can come with just a cock up my ass, not being touched anywhere else.” If sex chat and body fluid talk makes you squeamish then this certainly isn’t the book for you.
What it is, is a novel that sets about exposing the intimacies of the human body and all its bodily functions. It’s about a woman exploring sex and what it means to her all from a hospital bed, whilst simultaneously trying to reunite her divorced parents.
We quickly discover the reason for her stint in hospital, an anal lesion caused by her ‘modern shaving regime’. She jokes that as a result of her legion, she’ll ‘never be an ass model,’ and wonders what she has to eat ‘to help the skin of your ass grow? Mackerel?’ Roche is incredibly witty and there were so many lines throughout the novel that I couldn’t help laughing out loud at.
At times the witty and playful gives way to the slightly bizarre, the case in point being the significance of the avocado on the front cover of the book. Rest assured these aren’t the kinds of avocados you’ll want to eat. We learn that besides sex, growing avocados is one of the narrator’s hobbies. Why avocado growing? Well to use them as organic dildos of course! That’s right, she uses the avocado seed as a dildo.
In fact the novel is littered with references to fruit and veg, from the cauliflower like haemorrhoids, the avocado dildo to the fruit and veg seller she meets who requests to shave her. It’s here that she makes one of the more serious points in the novel, our ‘modern shaving regime’ and the obsession we have with a hairless, childlike bodies. The narrator isn’t exempt from this either. What she does say is that,
“I think that, if men want shaved women, they should take over the shaving. Don’t saddle the women with all the work. In the absence of men, women wouldn’t care about how hairy they were/. The best arrangement I can imagine would be for men and women to shave each other in whatever way they find most pleasing.”
The narrator sets about revealing how we’ve become trained to fear and loathe our bodies and their natural smells and functions. So much so that,
“Most people have just been alienated from their bodies and trained to think that anything natural stinks and anything artificial smells nice.”
Wetlands makes full use of the senses to bring us back in touch with our bodies. Language is used in the novel in a raw, unfiltered way to describe everything from her having sex and cunnilingus on her period, to her homemade tampons, visiting brothels, shitting and tasting and smelling her own vagina. The later she justifies by saying,
“There’s no way I can spread my legs for some guy – to get thoroughly eaten out, for instance – without knowing myself how everything looks, tastes and smells down there. “
She makes the interesting observation that by and large, men see more of a woman than a woman does because the vagina especially is hidden out of view.
Roche is right about the distaste and revulsion women feel towards their own bodies and it’s bodily fluids. Nor can I think of any work of fiction that deals with this kind of subject matter in the way she does.
The negative reaction to the novel proves Roche’s point about how uncomfortable we feel as a society discussing the most intimate workings of our bodies, especially women’s bodies. I feel as if we’re only really now starting to talk about periods, for example.
If you’re looking for a novel with complex plotting and an intricately woven storyline. Wetlands isn’t for you. What it is, is a character study of one woman, Helen and her obsessions. It’s refreshing to read a novel that’s so uninhibited. It really is unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
I can see why it was labelled as ‘controversial’ and that concerns me. That a novel should be labelled as such because it seeks to explore the female body and female sexuality in all it’s explicit intimacy shows have far we still need to go when discussing such topics. After all, men have been writing about their body and bodily functions since the dawn of time.
It is daring and at times you do want to look at anything but the words on the page and for that reason, this is a book well worth reading.
Wetlands by Charlotte Roche. Translated by Tim Mohr. Published by Fourth Estate. 2009.
A link to the publisher can be found here: Wetlands by Charlotte Roche – publisher