Sunday, 2 March 2008

Everybody's Talking About...

...Martin Walser's new book, so I read Charlotte Roche's Feuchtgebiete instead. You can see the author's naked bum on a record cover here. Sadly, I can't find any English-language coverage as yet, so see this interview with nice photos in Blond mag.

Yes, it's a celebrity book. I'm actually quite a fan of celebrity books, I have to admit. My fave is Jade Goody (before the racialism incident), because it combines your bog-standard ghost-written autobiography with a misery memoir. The Germans haven't gone with the whole I'm a Celebrity, Give Me a Book Contract thing yet. That's probably a good thing really... Just imagine - Heidi Klum and Seal's joint autobiography. David Hasselhoff's favourite recipes. Boris Becker's sex tips. Doris Schröder-Köpf's book of lullabies. But I have no intention of comparing Charlotte Roche with Jade Goody - they have nothing whatsoever in common and would no doubt hate each other if they were ever unlucky enough to meet.

Roche's book is a novel. She's famous for presenting music TV, which I never watch. I did make an exception once, and saw her interviewing Mike Skinner and managing to manipulate him into saying "Don't take drugs, kids" as I recall. Very amusing. Anyway, the title translates as "Wetlands" or "Moist Areas". Can you guess what it's about yet?

It's about an 18-year-old girl called Helen who is in hospital for an anal fissure. And it's about masturbation, haemerrhoids, anal sex, body hair, avocados and, er, they fuck you up, your mum and dad. Basically. Apparently the original publisher decided not to bring it out after all, as they thought it was pornographic. It is a bit titillating at points, but it seems to be about other things too. I get the feeling Roche might have read Helen Walsh's Brass (published as Millie in German) before she wrote it. It's about a fucked-up kid who consumes her own body fluids and is too embarrassed to leave the cubicle after she's done a shit in case someone sees her face. But she'll go to a strange man's house to get her pubes shaved off, and much more besides. And she narrates her really quite shocking stories in the language of the primary school playground - it's all poo-poo and wee-wee, bum-bum and, well, what would we say? Fanny? Noo-noo? Front bottom? Down there?

And that's part of Roche's point, I think. That women do all these strange things to ourselves, yet we don't even have a proper word for our own genitals. The advantage to being a celebrity is that lots of people want to interview you about your début novel. And Charlotte Roche has been talking left right and centre about kicking over the statues of sexual taboos, about how women shouldn't feel compelled to shave their fannies (there, I managed it), about the cheek of the cosmetics industry to sell women perfumed panty liners, about how body fluids are good.

I haven't managed to finish the book, I have to admit. It upset me too much, reading about such a fucked-up kid. Plus I kept having to be careful my daughter wasn't reading over my shoulder - she was quite intruiged by the bright pink cover with a raised sticking plaster on it. But I think Roche has made her point. It may not have the strongest plot in the world, but the book makes you think. She has a daughter too, and that does make you worry about bringing up another repressed individual. So when my lovely little girl said to me yesterday, "Mama, lass mich in Ruhe mit deinem dirty, dirty, dirty" I just let her go ahead and eat that piece of cake with her brown sandy fingers. Hah!

Oh, did I mention it's funny? Here's my favourite non-disgusting bit:

"We were really great at talking in bad codes on the phone. When you take drugs you get paranoid and think you're Scarface and you're being bugged the whole time and any time now there'll be a major bust, arrest and trial, where the judge will ask you: 'Oh yes, Helen Memel, what are 'washing powder', 'pizza' and 'painting' actually supposed to mean? You didn't do any washing in the period in question, nor did you eat pizza or paint. We weren't just tapping your phone, you see, we were watching you too.'"

Not sure I'd want to translate it though. Might be rather gruelling, and the terminology research might take you to strange places you don't really want to go to.

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