Sea Slugs

Jsrochephoto.img_assist_custom Justin Smith reviews Charlotte Roche's Feuchtgebiete in n+1:

Ficken and Pissen are part of our ancient Germanic patrimony, while Schleimhaut is a product of German's Latin-resistant modernity. There are still other words for describing the body and its functions that have been invented by German youth, who care nothing about patrimony, and know nothing about modernity. Muschi is a term of endearment for a cat, but it is also, as various electronic sources will tell you, a German slang term for “vagina,” as well as a main-belt asteroid. In spite of its proximity to that adjective that English-speaking children use to describe the principle property of peas and mashed potatoes, this is a word that does not speak to me, that it does not feel natural to say, that leaves me with that same sense of having spoken against my very personality as when I utter a profanity in French. Charlotte Roche's debut novel, Feuchtgebiete—which would best be rendered as “moist regions,” but was recently published in English translation under the approximating title Wetlands—is filled with words I could never utter, and Muschi is the queen of them. This, I insist, is not at all because I am a prude.

Feuchtgebiete is a novel that one fears to criticize, lest one appear as just that. It is a “straight talking” novel, and it preempts criticism by framing the discussion of it in such a way that anyone who does not like it therefore does not like straight talking. It is a novel that faces up to things. “If you love someone and sleep with them,” Roche says in an interview with Granta, “you'll have to face those dirty bits—otherwise you might as well not get started with the business of sex in the first place.” Yet the serial monogamists among you—and all serial monogamists are also empiricists malgré eux—will no doubt have noticed a wide range, not of dirtiness, but of degrees to which a universally and perfectly equally distributed dirtiness is permitted by different people, with different personalities, to enter into interpersonal affairs. We might also notice differences in the degree to which this dirtiness is permitted to come to center stage in the fictional world of a novel. Roche gives it a starring role, and this seems to me neither right nor wrong. It's there. It's always there, even as other things, deemed more interesting by other novelists, are unfolding in the lives of their protagonists.