Helen, the feminist heroine of Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, is a walking, talking, bleeding, masturbating, avocado-fancying, haemorrhoid-hampered apologist for A levels (the rude kind) and DIY tampons…
Helen Memel, the 18 year old narrator of Wetlands, has two hobbies: growing avocados and sex. Although these really count as one hobby, because Helen uses the avocado stones to pleasure herself. In hospital after an intimate shaving accident, Helen explores her ‘moist patches’ in between seducing a male orderly and plotting to reunite her divorced parents.
Roche originally wanted to write a non-fiction book about female sexual hygiene, and she sees Wetlands is a fun way of exploring women’s ‘moist patches’ (the alternative translation of the German title, ‘Feuchtgebiete’). Since publication last year, Wetlands has sold over 700,000 copies and is now notorious, and probably not ideal reading on public transport. One German newspaper called the novel ‘a masturbation pamphlet’, and people have reportedly fainted at readings of the novel.
Charlotte Roche turns Helen inside out, and the reader travels up Helen’s bottom to her brain, simmering with sexual fantasies. Nothing is left uncovered, Helen has “given up on secrets” and exposes her alternative use for barbecue tongs; fondness for humming Amazing Grace while masturbating; and of course, the avocado stones.
A celebrity TV presenter, Roche is a German Davina McCall, who became a household name when she started appearing on TV without shaving her armpits. “When I walk into a pub now, and I see men saying, “Look, that’s Charlotte Roche”, it’s as if I’ve stolen something from them. I like that feeling”, she said.
Critics have seen the slightly deranged Helen, as a feminist symbol, questioning the modern preoccupation with hygiene, but she is also simply having fun, revelling in her odours, dirt, fleshy nooks and crannies. Jane Austen Roche certainly isn’t, but Wetlands is also a kind of romance, between Helen and her body. The novel is a love letter to imperfection, wickedly funny, disgusting, and totally readable.