Wetlands, Charlotte Roche

I’m not sure why I wanted to read Wetlands – I’m a very squeamish and repressed person when it comes down to it, so it might not seem like the most sensible choice of reading matter for my daily commute. The Mail described it as ‘profoundly unsettling'(but to be fair the Mail sees most things this way) while the Guardian reviewer wrote ‘if you ever wondered what you’d be like if you weren’t shy, polite, tolerant, modest, sexually repressed, logical and constrained by modern standards of hygiene, this may be the book for you.’ That’s a slightly crude description of what I think is a clever text, but it does give you a good frame of reference if you haven’t read it.

 The protagonist and anti-hero Helen Memel is completely without the sense of shame with which most women inhabit their bodies. We often talk about people who dare to say what we’re all thinking, but Helen takes it further and says and does things that most women don’t even dare think, because of the attitudes we have about our bodies, what it is to be female and about cleanliness and purity. Helen has none of these taboos. No bodily function or discharge is strange or unpleasant to her. (I shuddered just writing the word ‘discharge’ by the way.)

 Roche says that in Wetlands, she wanted to ‘write about the ugly parts of the human body. The smelly bits…in order to tell that story, I created a heroine that has a totally creative attitude to her body’. To me, it seems like in Helen, Roche has created a character to play with the biblical archetype of Eve. Helen is simultaneously both without sin and full of sin; she breaks every female taboo in the European-Christian tradition. Her lack of shame seems like something from before the Fall – she has the kind of understanding of and appreciation for her body and sexuality that women might have were it not for so many years of society shaping how we all imagine what it is to be female, based on the idea of Eve as the mother of all sin.

 There’s something distinctly rabble rousing about Wetlands it gets you angry and fired up at how we’ve become strangers to ourselves. It’s seductive even as it repels you. At times you can’t believe what Helen is doing/thinking/ saying and you screw up your face in disgust, but you simultaneously wish that you could be even a fraction as at ease with her body as she is.
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