Monday, March 23, 2009

Charlotte Roche/WETLANDS

Helen is an 18-year-old "ass patient," as she puts it. She is stuck in the hospital recovering from an operation that involved some tissue removal and requires some special healing. During the boredom that she survives over her several days as an invalid, Helen recounts her various attempts to shock the nursing staff, her efforts to force her divorced parents to interact with each other, and her many ruminations on personal hygiene and sex, all of which are put forth in more graphic terms than you have probably ever seen in your life. The gore and bravado, it turns out, might be a front for something a little darker, a reality Helen has worked her life to cover up.

I heard about this buzz from an editor friend who'd picked a copy up at Frankfurt. She mentioned that there was so much buzz about this book--it has been an international bestseller (originally in German), and the English translation is (Grove is hoping) going to make a big splash. "There is one scene, though," she told me, "that made me... pause. I wonder, if I had the ability to unread that scene, if maybe I would take it."

My reaction, having read the whole thing, is to wonder which scene she could have meant. Not that there aren't any gross scenes. Just that there is such a constant sustained level of grossness that no particular moment stuck out as unusually take back-able.

Just so you are forewarned, in case you decide to pick it up. Do not try to read it over your lunch hour.

But back to the book review. Is the book worth the...titillation? I think that Roche actually had a good mission, a point to make and the beginnings of a delicately constructed and mind-blowing psychological study of family dynamics and the teenage mind. Unfortunately, the ball dropped. About two-thirds of the way through, when I started seeing through the slime and pornography, I got my hopes up that there was something wonderful emerging, and was disappointed when Roche didn't force herself to get there. The second half of the novel was rushed and uneven, and the resolution was a thin cop-out. Which, unfortunately, makes the rest of the book into unnecessary disgustingness.

I wouldn't un-read the book, as my friend suggested she felt about portions of it. I have a fairly strong stomach. But I also don't feel like it made my life any better.

I read this book way in advance (although I'm posting this review in March, I finished the book in December). I'm wondering how mainstream media is going to take it--say it's awesome? Say it's gross? Ignore it entirely? I guess I'll see.

No comments: