Interracial Erotica

Danuta Kean

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Are these taboo-breaking novels art or porn?

Years ago, I heard a story about a group of publishers asked to recommend books for translation. The criteria were that they should be well-written, have literary merit, be commercially viable and have been recently published. One book divided the judges: a novel written from the point of view of a sex-abuse victim who enjoyed her abuse. The women thought it badly written and disgusting. The men thought it ground-breaking and provocative: its explicit content and taboo-breaking perspective were enough to give it "literary cachet". When it comes to sex, the usual rules for judging good literature need not apply.

I recalled the story while reading German author Charlotte Roche's much-hyped Wetlands, a novel that has been hailed by Granta as the modern equivalent of J D Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye, J G Ballard's Crash and Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch. Wetlands (translated by Tom Mohr; Fourth Estate, £12.99) tells the story of Helen Memel, 18, who is recovering from invasive surgery on her piles. She regales readers with intimate details about her anal sphincter (you will never look at a cauliflower in the same way again), bodily fluids, shaving and general sex life.

Every orifice is explored, every fluid tasted, leaked or smeared. Her fingers seem rarely out of her knickers. Dirty toilet seats are rubbed against, avocado seeds pumped out of her vagina like Thai ping-pong balls and her labia (or "ladyfingers" as Helen tweely calls them) stretched in a way guaranteed to make women want to cross their legs. More The Story of Ugh than The Story of O, Helen's dirt-dodging explains why she has few friends, though no such easy explanation is given for her obsession with sex and fetishisation of filth. Roche feebly indicates that Helen is sex-obsessed because she is lonely, her parents divorced and her mother fixated on hygiene. Even ground-breaking feminists cannot escape the cliché of blaming mummy.

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