Book Review: Wetlands

In a word, this book is disgusting. I have a high threshold of cringe and squeamishness, but a couple of times I nearly stopped reading this just because it was so unnecessarily horrible. 

When it first came out, I read all the reviews, and an article in the Guardian that talked about how it had been banned in Germany and how the name actually meant “Moist Areas” rather than “Wetlands” – I don’t think I could have brought myself to read a book with that name though, so I’m glad (or am I? I’m not sure) that they named it something slightly less immediately offensive.

The basic premise is that a (very uninhibited) teenage girl goes into hospital for an operation on her arse. She’s had an accident whilst shaving, and while she’s lying in her bed with nothing to do but think, you get a constant stream from her brain to the page. Which isn’t exactly pleasant, to say the least. 

This girl has something to say about everything: sex (anal, oral, full-frontal); bodily fluids (nasal, vaginal, blisterial); eating things you really shouldn’t (blood, blisters, scabs) and pretty much everything else you can think of that makes you retch slightly just at the thought of it. 

Lots of the reviews I read (probably because I read things like the Guardian) championed it as some kind of liberal feminist ultra-fantastic (if disgusting, even they admitted that) tome that would change the way we look at censorship, especially censorship of women. 

The thing that finally made me read the book all the way through, though, was one of the little “sound-bite” reviews I found on the inside cover. I can’t remember who wrote it or exactly what it said, and my best friend borrowed the book in a quest to find something she’d finally be disgusted by, but the gist was that it was an interesting insight into the mind of someone who was slowly going insane. A book on mental illness, rather than a feminist rant or just something written to shock. 

This probably coloured the way I read it, because it was in the back of my mind all the way through. And if I’d read the book without reading the review at the beginning – well, honestly, I probably wouldn’t have finished it – I don’t know if I would have understood that it could be interpreted that way. But looking at it, especially the ending, it actually makes a lot of sense. And also makes me question our definitions of sanity. I mean, the girl is blatantly a lot less inhibited than most of us. Her hygiene standard is significantly lower than mine, which is saying something, and she spends an awful lot of time thinking about her vagina. She also does things other people wouldn’t think of doing. But does that make her crazy, or just really free with herself? Where do we draw the line? It’s an interesting distinction. 

I really can’t say I’d recommend it, because it was truly horrific, but… well, if you’ve got a high threshold for that kind of thing, you might find it intriguing, if not exactly enjoyable. 

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