Craig Brown

Back to basics | 11 February 2009

Wetlands, by Charlotte Roche<br /> <br type="_moz" />

Wetlands, by Charlotte Roche

What an odd mix of distinguished residents High Wycombe has had! Fern Britton, Benjamin Disraeli, Dusty Springfield, Karl Popper, Jimmy Carr: it’s a list that reads like a game of Celebrity Consequences in freefall.

There is not much in common between those listed above. Yet a subsection of the list displays an almost obsessive interest in sexual and gastronomic experimentation. The goggle-eyed chef Heston Blumenthal, brought up in High Wycombe, has become famous for off-beat dishes such as Snail Porridge and Egg-and-Bacon Ice Cream. Ian Dury, who went to school there, is best-known for the song ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, a jaunty, multi-lingual (‘je t’adore, iche liebe dich!’) hymn in praise of sado-masochism. That fine artist, Eric Gill, who set up his workshop in High Wycombe, is now notorious for secretly conducting an incestuous relationship with his sister and his daughter; he was also on intimate terms with his dog.

And to these odd-bods may now be added Charlotte Roche (b. High Wycombe 1978), who combines the town’s twin areas of experimentation — sex and eating — in a singularly bizarre way in her first book. Wetlands has already sold over half-a- million copies in Germany, where the young Charlotte emigrated, and where she is a famous TV presenter. It is the first book in German to reach the Number 1 spot in Amazon’s global bestseller list. Now published in English, it is dividing our literary chatterers, some maintaining that it is a frank and liberating exploration of female sexuality, while others argue that it is a load of old filth. In Germany, its title is not the soppy-sounding Wetlands but the infinitely harsher Feuchtgebiete. If you say Feuchtgebiete out loud, its ugly, gobbing sound will give you a much better idea of what the book is like.

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