The Feminine Mystique
by Parul Sehgal — Publishers Weekly, 2/16/2009
In her German-bestselling debut, Wetlands, German television presenter turned novelist Charlotte Roche courts controversy with the very private, very peculiar sexual and grooming habits of her 18-year-old protagonist, Helen Memel.
Is anything taboo to you?
It’s a psychological trick I play with myself. For example, I have very small breasts. I have never felt like a real woman and, I think, men love me, but what they would really love is to have a woman with bigger tits. So I always talk about my small tits. Everything that I’m afraid of or embarrassed about, I shout out so that people won’t talk to me about it. I want to be in control of my own complexes. That’s probably why this book exists.
How did you come across this story?
I had a contract for a book for seven years—so for seven years, I lived with a very bad conscience. But I didn’t want to write a stupid TV book by a TV presenter. I realized that a good book had to be honest, something I knew about and something special to me. And I’m fascinated by sexual hygiene. I love talking about things I feel embarrassed about. I love talking about hemorrhoids at parties.
How do you feel about the book being interpreted as a feminist manifesto?
Any feminist interpretation is a compliment to me. If people think it’s a feminist manifesto, I would agree because there are a lot of hidden feminist statements. I was raised by a very feminist mother and fought loudly for women’s issues in school. I think all men and women should be feminists.
Who are your influences?
I don’t read at all. Since my daughter was born six years ago, I’ve only read one book, and that was because my best friend pushed me to read her favorite book, The Great Gatsby. But I think not being a big reader makes me freer in writing; I always hear that authors who read lots also get blockages—they have these idols and they try to be like them. I don’t have that problem at all. As for idols in real life, I always wish I had more role models that were strong older women with nice wrinkles.
Are you enjoying the book’s controversy?
Yes. I’m used to saying terrible things! Plus, it’s mostly very old men who hate the book or hate me, and it’s easy to focus on the nice people—mostly young women—who like it. They’re not shocked and they don’t think it’s scandalous. But old men think I’m breaking taboos just to make money. I always have to explain my point: the book isn’t meant to shock, it’s meant to entertain and to make women feel freer. I’ve done tons of readings, and the women in the audience always have a great laugh and admit that they used to be embarrassed about some body fluids or smells, but since they read the book they’re not embarrassed about anything anymore.
Read the PW review of Wetlands here