“Feuchtgebiete”, the novel of Charlotte Roche I bought about two and a half weeks ago, is really a great book. Just to point that out right of the bat. I was very sceptical about it, since I generally don’t like hyped up things, and because it sounded really gross. And for the most of it, it is. But it convinced me anyway.
Some have said that there’s nothing behind it, that it’s just a summing up of random gross bodily functions, explained in detail. That’s not the point. In fact, I was much less disgusted by it than expected. Then again, I’m not easily shocked by such things, since I have what I think is a healthy relationship to my body, I am a very open-minded person with a strong stomach. And I’m curious, especially about perverted stuff. Why else would I be writing my diploma thesis about the role of certain sexual practices in pain perception? But I digress…
To start off, the first pages are the worst. So if you get through them and are still interested, you’ll be hooked and read the whole 220 pages in a few days, like I did. The rest of the story has more background. The main character, Helen, is 18 and although she seems aware and experienced in the sex department, she still narrates with a certain naivety. I really enjoyed the way this book was written. And it’s not just about the gooey stuff, the icky parts, it’s also about a difficult family background. Apparently, all the women in Helens family go hysterical at some point. So she decides to get sterilised, which theoretically she can do, since she’s 18. But this is one of the most unrealistic parts of the book, because actually modern day medicine doesn’t allow women to decide this for themselves. If they are young and healthy enough to have children, doctors won’t perform the procedure. You can be as convinced as you want, if there is no reason you can’t have children besides the fact that you don’t want to, they think you’ll change your mind eventually. Since it’s not reversible, they won’t do it. Especially not on an 18 year old.
But anyway, the point is that Helen doesn’t get along with her family. She hardly sees her brother. She doesn’t know what to talk about with her father, besides plants and other benign stuff, and doesn’t even know his profession (engineer, as we find out in the end). Her mother once tried to kill herself and the brother, but won’t talk about it, and cut Helens long eyelashes in her sleep because she was jealous. But Helen isn’t really sure of all this, because it’s all blurry in her mind, either because of the circumstances or because of all those drugs she once tried. So you see, it’s not just about the body functions. But a lot of it is.
The main story line fades into the background to make room for the descriptions Helen makes of her hygiene habits, or the lack thereof. Everything is there, from the wax in her ears to the sucking of toes. With an emphasis, of course, in the middle – wetland nr. 1, the private parts. And here is where, in my mind, it gets important. Roche has stated on many occasions that women lack the language to talk about their private body functions or sexual needs, or anything that gets intimate in a less emotionally meant way. For instance, before Helen goes on a date, she sticks a finger in herself to then smell and taste her smegma (yes, that is a word for both men and women). Not that I would actually do it, but doesn’t it make sense to know what you’re asking from a partner if you want him to go down on you? Then again, that would mean that men should try their own sperm in return, and we all know that would never happen. Helen also likes to dip her finger in herself to then dab the smegma behind her ears, instead of perfume. I’ve heard this before, it’s supposed to work miracles in attracting men and arouse them. And frankly, many women try way to hard to cover themselves up in chemicals. I wear perfume myself, but just a little, and I make sure it blends with my personal smell.
I think we would all be freer if we accepted our natural selves. I’m all for hygiene, but in measure. I refuse to give in to the image the media wants women to have – it’s completely sterile and fake. There’s a passage in the book that describes it rather well:
Sagt man doch so: eine gepfelgte Frau. Als wäre das allein schon ein besonderer Wert. In der Schule sagten wir zu solchen Schülerinnen Arzttochter, egal was der Vater arbeitet. Ich weiß nicht, wie die das machen, aber sie sehen immer besser gewaschen aus als die andern. Alles ist sauber und irgendwie behandelt. Jede kleinste Körperstelle wurde mit irgendwas bedacht.
Was diese Frauen aber nicht wissen: Je mehr sie sich um all diese kleinen Stellen kümmern, desto unbeweglicher werden sie. Ihre Haltung wird steif und unsexy, weil sie sich ihre ganze Arbeit nicht kaputt machen wollen.
Gepflegte Frauen haben Haare, Nägel, Lippen, Füße, Gesicht, Haut und Hände gemacht. Gefärbt, verlängert, bemalt, gepeelt, gezupft, rasiert und gecremt.
Sie sitzen steif wie ihr eigenes Gesamtkunstwerk rum, weil sie wissen, wie viel Arbeit darin steckt, und wollen, dass es so lange wie möglich hält.
Solche Frauen traut sich doch keiner durchzuwuscheln und zu ficken.
Now I don’t want to judge – I know a part of that myself. For instance, I wouldn’t stand it if The BF came over and I hadn’t just shaved, to get the smoothest skin possible. And wouldn’t it be great if that held for more than twelve hours. But on the other hand, I have no problem walking around with cut up jeans (not the designer kind), without make-up or blow-dried hair (I have witnesses). I probably don’t own half the products other women find essential and I don’t shower every day. But no one has ever complained that I stink or looked dirty or unkempt in any way.
To warn you: there is also talk about blood and germs. She is in a hospital because of a anal fissure due to ungentle shaving of the area. She has haemorrhoids and gets her period after the operation, so there are bodily fluids of all kinds coming out of practically every opening. And she likes to spread her bacteria. This is another point I don’t agree with, because although shocking tight-assed people (or anal retentive, as I like to call them) might be fun, AIDS and Hepatitis I would take seriously. But she does have funny names for the bits and pieces of her private parts.
To sum up: it’s a very witty book, compelling at times like a gruesome accident you can’t look away from, eye-opening at others. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, although I can image it unsuitable or repulsing for some, especially those who take it too seriously. I would really like to know what a man thinks of this book. So much insight into women’s workings, for once not of the mind. Is it enlightening, or will you be put off for ever? I shall see once I’ve lent it around…