I finished reading Charlotte Roche’s “Feuchtgebiete” last weekend, a book that has not only sold a whopping 700,000 copies, but has also attracted attention worldwide and sold translation-rights to a whole bunch of countries.
Now, the whole premise of the novel, according to widespread opinion, is to gross out as many people as possible. Which is an explanation for why the book was sold so often, even though just about everyone who’s read it claims it’s awful and worthless.
It’s a bit of a paradox really: people buy the book because it’s supposedly the grossest shit ever, then talk about how it’s definitely the grossest shit ever. But, surprisingly, I don’t find the book half bad. Sure, it’s set out to shock people, but seriously, having spent more than 15 years on the Internets, reading about this or that bodily fluid isn’t going to shock me (or most other people who pretend to). And, there is a quite a bit more to it than gross shit.
It’s basically the story of a dysfunctional family and the narrator, Helen Memel, happens to be the product of said family. The point of women being the victims of personal hygiene propaganda is a recurring theme and rings quite true, and even though it’s the center of discussions with Roche, it’s by far not the most prominent issue addressed in the book (but just happens to be a topic people react sensitively to. Zeitgeist, if you will).
In the end, the book is about alienation, broken families and what it’s like growing up as a girl nowadays. Hyperbole, as a stylistic device, is mostly found in poetry, so people are not used to finding it in prose, but “Feuchtgebiete” is, in its depiction of crass alternative hygiene practices and sexual acts usually unfit for girls Helen’s age, one big hyperbole. Which is what most readers didn’t see or didn’t care to see.
The book is not smut and it’s not porn either and while it’s one of the rare occasions of a woman being the frank narrator, it’s nothing new. But it’s a sad little story which didn’t feel like a total waste of time, and that’s enough for me.