Wetlands (novel)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Feuchtgebiete is Charlotte Roche's debut novel. Semi-autobiographical, it was first published in German in 2008 by DuMont and was the world's best-selling novel in March 2008. For supporters it is a piece of erotic literature; for critics it is cleverly marketed pornography.

The title, which might be translated as "wetlands" or "damp areas," here refers to a woman's nether regions, i.e. her vagina and anus.

Plot summary

Set in an anonymous German city, Feuchtgebiete is told by 18 year-old Helen Memel, a schoolgirl who spends some days in the proctological ward of a hospital to be treated for anal fissure caused by the careless shaving of her pubic hair. Deep at heart Helen is lonely and bored, and has been so since the breakup of her parents' marriage. Her secret plan is to reunite her father and mother by having them visit her at the same time. However, her parents seem to have little interest in their daughter's well-being and show up only occasionally, only for short periods of time, and at different hours. When she learns that her surgery, which included the removal of haemorrhoids, has been successful and she is going to be released soon, she desperately looks for means to prolong her hospital stay.

She secretly rams the pedal of her hospital bed into her anus and immediate emergency surgery has to be carried out to prevent extreme blood loss. Thus having successfully extended her stay, she waits in vain for her miracle to happen: her parents have stopped visiting altogether, and when she tries to contact them by phone all she gets is their respective answering machines. During this time she falls in love with her favourite male nurse called Robin and gradually draws the young man into her world. At the end of the novel Helen asks him if she can live at his place. He agrees willingly, and the young couple leave the hospital grounds on Robin's bicycle. When she asks him if he wants to have sex with her, he says yes but adds that he would want to abstain from anal sex for the time being.

Major themes

The major part of Feuchtgebiete is made up of Helen's thoughts, reminiscences and sexual fantasies while confined to her hospital bed. A sexually active woman since she was fifteen, she has had sex with lots of men and boys and describes herself as continuously randy. Shortly after her 18th birthday she had herself sterilised without telling her parents about it.

Helen has an unusual relationship to her body. She abhors personal hygiene and enjoys many of the bodily fluids which are secreted or excreted from it, be it mucus, pus, earwax, smegma, blood (including menstrual blood), sweat, or tears, but also men's sperm, all of which she "recycles" by putting them into her mouth and swallowing them. She loves to attract potential sexual partners by parading, underneath her dress, her unwashed vagina and the smells emanating from it. In a series of interviews Roche explained that cleanliness and above all pedantic care for their own bodies, including the use of artificial scents such as perfume, have been inculcated upon women for ages; that this obstructs their—not just sexual—self-realisation; and that the fear of harmful "bacteria" has been vastly exaggerated.

Generally, Feuchtgebiete touches upon a number of taboo topics not only in the sexual arena but also those that can be found in the society at large, particularly in dysfunctional families. These include self-mutilation, amnesia triggered by recreational drug abuse, people's inability to deal with failed suicide attempts, and incest.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Wetlands (novel)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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