I read an article a few months ago about a book that was causing a sensation in Germany. Described as a sort of coming of age story couched in sexual explicitness, it sold half a million copies in Germany, landing at the top of Amazon’s global best seller list.
So when I sotted the bright green and pink pile of books stacked in the erotica section (right next to the fiction, I swear) I recognized Wetlands almost instantly. And though I was with a colleague at the time, I decided to buy it (despite the ensuing teasing). My first erotica book, how exciting!
Wetlands is narrated by 18-year-old Helen, a fearless and highly sexed girl who winds up in hospital due to a pubic area shaving disaster. While the entire book is set in the hospital and revolves around her operations and recovery, the storyline wanders from her family, to her sexual exploits, to her unusually intimate and self-assured relationship with her own body.
The defining characteristic about this book is that Helen describes, in graphic detail, not only how she likes to pleasure herself, but also her approach to various bodily excretions. It’s highly graphic, at times too much so, but there’s not a lot of actual sex in the book. I certainly wouldn’t classify it as porn, and I’d even be hard-pressed to call it erotica. In fact my reaction ranged from curiosity to full-on disgust, but rarely titillation.
Author Charlotte Roche has said in interviews that she hopes readers will experience some level of arousal. But I found the intimate scenes mostly a bit off-putting due mainly to the overtly grotesque practices of the protagonist. While she does interesting and vaguely feminist anti-establishment type things like make her own tampons, it’s when she described at length the sharing of her creations – both organic and otherwise –with the world at large, that I had to admit defeat.
I simply couldn’t relate to this character, as much as my feminist inclinations tried. She’s young, liberated and thoroughly at ease with her body, and that’s to be commended. But what woman in this day and age feels that way? Sure, we have too few truly liberated role models, but there are lines of societal propriety we don’t cross for good reasons – like basic hygiene.
Even Roche has admitted she wishes she were more like Helen. But the reality is that women tend to conform to basic societal norms and the way to break free from the more oppressive ones is not likely by leaving used tampons and other bodily excretions in public places.