Charlotte Roche, the newly crowned queen of Clit Lit, calls herself a feminist. Not everyone agrees.
According to Times critic Joan Smith, Roche, author of new hit novel Wetlands, is “parasitic” on the feminist body.
Ask a grown up critic about the novelist’s feminist credentials and you’ll hear disapproval. Ask one of the millions of Roche’s happy young readers, and they’ll tell you this novel is “empowering”. Ask me a week or two ago about the merit of Wetlands as a feminist manifesto, and I wouldn’t know what to tell you. This was awkward given that a newspaper was paying me to assess the text on the sisterhood’s behalf.
So, I’ve been thinking. Not only because I was contractually obliged; but because the novel actually demands assay. Wetlands may read like a transgendered Chuck Palahniuk. Or like a really smutty Sylvia Plath before she enrolled at Smith. It may not be high literature; but it is significant literature.
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Two million Germans have elected to read a work that literally, if not literately, explores every crevice of the female form. It seems that a parallel success is guaranteed in the Anglophone world. It’s not every month that a young woman writes about her partiality to buggery, attachment to prostitutes and, most shocking, her bold choice not to take off her make-up at night. If we believe that feminism is not vestigial, we must take this book seriously.
This is a tallish order. First, it’s very difficult not to giggle at a work that uses the word “haemorrhoid” in its first sentence. Further, it is written by a star of German infotainment TV. Finally, it is translated by a Playboy staffer who finds the newer music of Duran Duran “openly sexualised” and “modern”. Susan Faludi it ain’t. Important it is.
Speaking broadly and brutally, the only remaining workable site for feminism is the female body and its desires. For a host of reasons, not the least of which is the appeal of the female form, this is the only sort of feminism to which anyone will pay current heed. This late feminism has some unpleasant side effects. Think auto-gynaecologist Annie Sprinkle, boring essays about boring Madonna or truly awful novels like The Bride Stripped Bare.
But it’s had its genuine stars, too. Think the glorious academic smut of Camille Paglia, fun French twat text The Sexual Life of Catherine M and now Roche’s Wetlands.
More unhygienic that pornographic, this strange book takes young women to a site of greater comfort. Here, female bodies are more than a thing at which we collectively stare. That Roche, a television star, bothered to displace the female body from its 2D context and into a realm where it must be reckoned with and, ew, sniffed, is striking. This reeking rant is OK with me. It’s the populist dose of smelling salts that feminism needed.