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Wetlands Hardcover – April 8, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Roche's explicit and provocative debut about an 18-year-old girl with a very active sex life was a bona fide sensation in Germany upon its publication earlier this year. Helen Memel, hospitalized for the treatment of an infected anal lesion, spends much of the novel in the hospital scheming on how to reunite her divorced parents. Between visits by hospital staff and her family, Helen shares her vast sexual experience, details how she rebels against her mother's uptightness by reveling in excretions, and maintains a high level of curiosity about her own body (and, of course, others'). Among the graphic sex scenes and tidbits on her avocado tree–growing hobby, Helen dishes gnarly stories about leaving a used tampon in an elevator, dribbling a trail of urine from the bathroom to her bed and eating scabs. Through Helen's mix of eroticism and profanity, Memel attacks conventional views on women's hygiene, sexuality and the definition of femininity. Though there isn't much plot—it feels largely like a buffet of filth and screwing—Helen's take on life is enough to keep the pages turning. (Apr.)
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“Not many literary readings are restricted to an over-eighteen audience. Fewer still take place under circus tents. Yet nothing could be more appropriate for the scandalous German best-seller Wetlands . . . a headlong dash through every crevice and byproduct, physical and psychological, of its narrator’s body and mind. It is difficult to overstate the raunchiness of the novel, and hard to describe in a family newspaper. . . . With her jaunty dissection of the sex life and the private grooming habits of the novel’s eighteen-year-old narrator, Charlotte Roche has turned the previously unspeakable into the national conversation in Germany. . . . Ardent fans have shown up to her readings with avocados as presents and, in several instances documented in the local media, the unprepared have fainted at some of the scenes.”—Nicholas Kulish, The New York Times

“An explicit novel, often shockingly so, but also a surprisingly accomplished literary work, which evokes the voice of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the perversion of J.G. Ballard’s Crash and the feminist agenda of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. . . . [Wetlands] hasn’t been out of Germany’s newspapers since publication.”—Philip Oltermann, Granta

“Using language explicit enough to make the Mayflower Madam blush . . . the sassy if confessional tone [of Wetlands] introduces a 21st century Lolita whose bravado is slowly chipped away. . . . Intense . . . Exhilarating, moving, sad, and scary.”—Library Journal

“A sharply-written, taboo-busting black comedy, both gross and engrossing. . . . [Helen Memmel] is Florence Nightingale’s worst nightmare. . . . Wetlands, in the tradition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, is a remarkable novel about mental illness that has been mistaken for feminist literature.”—Alice O'Keefe, Newstatesman

“‘Provocative’ is one of those publishing buzzwords reflexively used to stir up interest in the most banal of books. [But for Wetlands] the overused descriptor is tepid. . . . The novel’s utterly original, occasionally stomach-churning imagery [is] . . . probably not for Oprah’s book club.”—Anne Kingston, Maclean’s (Canada)

“Profoundly unsettling.”—Rowan Pelling, Daily Mail (UK)

“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. . . . This is not a beautiful or perfect book, but an enterprising one, and its cumulative effect is admirable. . . . Our bodies mean a lot to us—even the asshole, about which far too little has been written. Every writer needs to claim a bit of territory, and assholes are there for the grabbing. Boldly, Roche takes them for her own.”—The Guardian (UK)

“Roche has created a female lead that is likeable and funny, flawed and idiosyncratic. She manages to win you over because of, not despite of, the gross stuff. . . . Helen speaks abut female sexuality in a way that is rarely heard. . . . [Wetlands] is an easy page turner of a read, with a [heroine] who doesn’t conform to mainstream ideas of femininity and a great mixture of the gross and erotic.”—Subtext Magazine

Wetlands made me squirm-in-my-seat uncomfortable—and I loved every minute of it! Roche turns expectations about women and sexuality on their head, and does it with a frankness that’s brave and hilarious. In a world where women’s bodies are supposed to be nipped, tucked, shaved and douched, Wetlands is a much needed antidote.”—Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth and Full Frontal Feminism

“A bold, brash manifesto of contemporary feminine rebellion. Charlotte Roche is the long-lost love child of Anais Nin and Henry Miller.”—Kevin Keck, author of Oedipus Wrecked

“[An] explicit and provocative debut novel about an eighteen-year-old girl with a very active sex life. . . . Through [protagonist] Helen Memel’s mix of eroticism and profanity, Roche attacks conventional views on hygiene, sexuality and the definition of femininity.”—Publishers Weekly

Wetlands is at times difficult to read, but that is all the more reason to read it. Female readers will be compelled to analyze their reaction to the gross-outs of this novel, and what it says about their own ideas about femininity, but I almost hope the readers are more often male. Women: Give this book to a man who needs to read it!”—Jessica Cutler, author of The Washingtonienne

“For fans, [Wetlands] is an erotic literary classic and an exploration of contemporary concepts of cleanliness and sex and femininity; for critics it is crude and cleverly marketed pornography. . . . Wetlands, which has beaten Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns and Ken Follett’s latest to the top of Amazon’s international sales list, has sparked a frenzy among major British publishers. . . . Whether it is the fantasies about sex, the polemics against the use of deodorants, the avocado cores grown specially for use in masturbation, or the detailed and inventive passages of scatological or genital description, Wetlands has left few indifferent. . . . French magazines have run articles on ‘taboos and literature’, Swiss papers have worried about moral corruption and, after seven weeks at the top of the bestseller list in Germany, no one is tiring of the debate.”—Jason Burke, The Observer (UK)

“[A] graphic, brutal scatological glimpse of one young woman’s sexual proclivities . . . Helen celebrates shattering sexual and social taboos in a way others might only dream of.”—London Lite

“[A] scandalous novel about sex, personal hygiene, and almost every conceivable part of the female anatomy [that] has taken the Teutonic literary world by storm. . . . It is the unashamedly shocking aspect of Wetlands that has turned the book into Germany’s current runaway literary success. Since the novel was published in February this year it has topped the best-seller fiction lists, with well over a million copies sold. It has become the only German book to top Amazon.com’s global best-seller list, was recently translated into Dutch, and is now doing almost as well in Holland. The novel is both an assault on the sexual and behavioral taboos that inhibit young men and women and an at times excruciatingly explicit account by the female narrator of how she goes about systematically breaking them.”—The Independent (UK)

“Thank you, Charlotte Roche. Finally someone who describes our bodies and the things we can do with them the way they really are: warm, moist, intensely fragrant. . . . You might think that in the era of Internet porn sites like Youporn this isn’t necessarily revolutionary. But it is—because the hero is a woman. It’s told from her perspective, felt from her perspective, imagined from her perspective. That makes it different from other bodily-fluid-narratives, behind whose cameras or screenplays are men.”—Brigitte magazine (Germany)

“As the furore surrounding the publication of Wetlands has shown, there’s a very vocal segment of the population ready to accuse women who embrace pornography of some sort of treachery.”—The List

Wetlands is first and foremost a romantic book, and it shows that our society is threatened not by the liberalization of sexual inhibitions but rather from a prudishness that hides behind silicon breasts.”—Vanity Fair (Germany)

“Roche jumps from the realm of pain to that of desire as if at the most fundamental level they were one and the same. . . . The admission of the grotesqueness of one’s own body is perhaps the most chivalrous of all acts of courtesy, as it frees others from the burden of perfection. . . . Charlotte Roche has succeeded in doing something linguistically nearly impossible: She reconciles us to the humiliations that mark the beginning of any seduction.”—Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany)

“There’s more to Wetlands than the graphic, bodily-function-related descriptions. The dirt, the indulging in self and others—not wanting to let go of a single bit of oneself, to the extent of trying to reinternalize any manifestation of injury or even just one's sweat and tears -- this whole back to basics (if not exactly nature) is very much just a shield for Helen, her attempt to protect herself from a world of hurt. Her ridiculously cheery tone gives the impression of a generally happy-in-her-own-filthy-skin girl, but it, too, is misleading. In fact, all she does is hurt (and yes, there' a lot of pain involved around and in recovering from the operations). . . . It is a surprisingly insightful work, even as it (or at least her indulgences) seem so absurd. But it's not an easy read. It's about as uneasy a read as one can imagine. Helen . . . mentions a lot of sex, but this is not an erotic work. Yet it feels almost pornographic, because of the childish tone and the fact that Helen is a damaged child. The emphasis on her being of (legal) age is no coincidence: she is technically an adult, and has been for a short while now, but for the most part she is just a child. This isn't a book about the freedom of not shaving one's armpits (surprisingly, Helen shaves—and is shaved—a lot—though, of course, that's also part of her problem, as it set everything in motion when she didn't do a good job of it) or a new, permissive feminism of getting down and dirty. It's simply a te...

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Tra edition (April 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802118925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802118929
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #866,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Sarah on October 21, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
How about mucous, mold, smegma, pus, earwax, menstrual blood, hemorrhoids, boogers, greasy anal, and crusty semen panties?

If the answer is a resounding "yes", then you are going to LOVE Wetlands. It's the 50 Shades of Gray for Filth Fetishists.
Like 50 Shades, a reed thin plot that not even the author cares about is used to string together scene after brutally detailed scene of adventures in fringe fetishes and sexuality. Except in this case it's not BDSM, but the Mysophilia lifestyle that is examined, as you live in the head Helen Memel, our heroine, a teenaged, girl stuck in the hospital recovering from a 'rrhoidectomy.

Between childish acts of mischief and plots to get her divorced parents back together, Helen reminisces fondly about all the fun she's had with things society finds disgusting, exploring their tastes, textures, smells, and masturbatory potential. There's something for everyone to enjoy...

...Unless of course you answered "no". Then there's endless squeamishness and the desire to bathe in a vat of Lysol every time you put down the book.

I pride myself on not flinching away from repulsive and disturbed content in books, but I must admit, Wetlands had me skimming. A lot. I took this book on as a personal challenge, and it was CHALLENGING to get through! But I did, and despite it's unpleasant focus and intensity, I liked it... sort of?

I'm giving Wetlands 3 stars because, no matter how deeply messed up she is, and how gross the story can get at times, the character of Helen Memel is stubbornly likeable. The author has given her a great companionable and thoughtful voice. I don't like what she says, but I like how she says it. I don't like what she likes, but I like her carefree following of her bliss. She's one of those characters you won't soon forget.
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32 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Danielle on March 16, 2010
Format: Paperback
I was excited about the prospect of a book like this - something I hadn't come across before. I am writing this review after having read only 1/3 of it before losing interest. You pick up your novel night after night because you want to know what will happen next. Yes, this is a character study more than than story, but a girl in hopsital after a butt operation relaying gross stories for the sake of grossness, just doesnt cut it.

At first it's quirky, then it's just silly. She eats her snot. Eats her scabs. Sucks on the left overs on her knickers. She drops tampons she is using on the dirty floor, with the intention of it getting dirty, then re-uses it. I'm sorry but you REALLY need more than that stuff to round out a character.

I'm sure the author would be delighted to read the reviews. It really seems like the whole purpose of this book was just to shock and create controversy rather than produce a meaningful or insightful piece. And for anyone who wrote that they were hoping this book was an insight into the female mind, OH PLEASE. Come on.

You should read a few pages of this book before buying it to make sure you can handle/ will enjoy the contents. You won't have to dig very far to discover the flavour of the book. Might suit male readers more... I'm not sure.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful By mrs_somnambulist on July 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Billed as the female "Tropic of Cancer" , the modern "Female Eunuch", or even the teen girl's "Catcher in the Rye", the hype surrounding this "Wetlands" is a million times more titillating and infuriating than the book itself.

While it's notions of feminine hygiene and propriety seem ground-breaking to the uninitiated, they've been dealt with earlier (and sadly, with more empowerment) in the male-penned "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues or in a more artful manner in the works of Kathy Acker.

The main character is an emotionally damaged teen whose self-endangerment ( and the endangerment of others) is a "equal-and-opposite" style display of rebellion from her mother's hygiene fixation and whose sexual "freedom" serves to placate her feelings of detachment from her father and abandonment by both parents.
To borrow from the lexicon of the modern 18 year old; This is SO not the feminist manifesto so many make it out to be.

If gross-out stories a la Chuck Palahniuk amuse and entertain you, by all means pick this up.
It was a quick, funny read for what it was worth, however, don't make the mistake of heading into this with the idea that this is an important work, or even one that will be remembered in ten years.
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35 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Richard McCombie on November 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It is a depressing to read many of the reviews posted here for this very good book. I feel sorry for those people so lacking in sophistication and intellect that they see this book as nothing more than 'pornographic' and 'disgusting'. To those men who bought it hoping to be 'turned on' and have expressed themselves disappointed, you represent all about the male sex that embarasses me - shallow, immature and simple. To those who think that this book is, or is meant to be, titillating and erotic: the joke is on you.

Indeed, the graphic, crude descriptions in this book are a sideshow and not what it is ultimately about: thankfully, some of the reviewers here have the intelligence to grasp this. It is about mental illness, in both the main character and her family. It is about the terrible damage done to children by abusive MOTHERS. That is the taboo exposed here: abuse perpetrated by mothers, both physical and psychological. Helen Memel is a pitiful, vulnerbale, psychologically damaged and very lonely human being who would rather take anyone to bed with her than be alone. It is not the gory scenes that moves one most of all, even if, astonoshingly, these scenes are the only thing many readers are capable of registering and distilling form the book. No, what moves one most is the internal suffering of this young women, the attempted murder of her brother by her mother, the harm done by the divorce of her parents and her longing for them to be reunited, her sterilisation and her self-hate. Yes, I appreciate that a facet of this book is the honest, no-holds-barred description of sexual body parts and female sexuality and that some will find that aspect to be refreshing. It is clearly also, in parts, meant to be humerous and funny (another aspect apparently missed by many).
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