Let’s talk about sex.
Although I generally like to relate the books I read to some personal aspect of my life (in regards to what makes a novel memorable for me), I will spare us all the awkwardness that could cause. That will not stop me from asking you the following question (and for argument’s sake let the general term “sex” reflect all forms), in a marriage:
a) Is sex the answer to death?
b) Is a blowjob easier than making coffee?
c) Is it best to forgo monogamy by one or both partners?
d) Yes to all of the above?
The answer is d, according to Charlotte Roche’s latest novel ‘Wrecked’. Elizabeth Kiehl works hard to be the “coolest wife” and the “best mother”. She tries to be environmentally friendly, feed her daughter only organic food, and explore all of her husband’s desires. They watch pornography together, regularly visit brothels, and engage in threesomes with other women only (though Elizabeth longs to be with another man). Behind Elizabeth’s controlled demeanor lurks a tragic past and nearly unhinged psyche. She visits her therapist thrice weekly to work through her tragic past (in a semi-autobiographical account, she lost her three brothers and nearly lost her mother in a horrific car accident), her sexual hang-ups, and her suicidal yearnings. She fantasizes about death, sex, and revenge. She worries her husband will leave her because of her breast size. She seemingly worries about every single thing imaginable and then relates it to sex.
‘Wrecked’ is an unflinching and at times uncomfortable look at a modern marriage and the issues that plague it – love, fidelity, death, motherhood, and desire. The novel spans three days in the life of Elizabeth and opens with a 15 page account of Elizabeth fellating her husband in graphic, yet oddly domestic detail:
It smells the way my grandmother’s kitchen used to after she’d sautéed fish.
Despite the sexual content, the novel lacks eroticism. For those looking for a follow-up novel to the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon, this is not it. What this is…is I don’t know what this is. Is it an ode to the modern multitasking woman? Maybe, as it centers on a woman who ponders whether the female orgasm is just a myth perpetuated by an overactive female imagination and notes that her mother disapproves of her enjoyment of sex all while she is performing oral sex on her husband. Is it an unconventional and often condemning portrait of the pressures put on modern women to excel at everything? Possibly. Is it Roche’s attempt to goad feminists? Probably and, if so, she succeeded. Alice Schwarzer, one of Germany’s leading feminists, wrote her an open letter criticizing her view of intercourse calling her novel the problem, not the solution.
I feel in my own body, during sex, that the women’s movement got a lot of things wrong.
Roche’s novel is clearly not for everyone. Released in Germany in 2011, the novel was translated into English by Tim Mohr in 2013. I received a review copy from the publishers in exchange for an honest review and my honest opinion is this:
‘Wrecked’ is a novel that investigates the modern marriage in all its glory. The pressure put on women to be the best mother and the best wife and to conform to society’s standards of what those ideals are is overwhelming. Add in Elizabeth’s tragic past and you get a slightly unhinged, neurotic, and unlikable protagonist. But is it her fault? While this novel isn’t about sex so much as the uses of sex – revenge, control, entertainment, relaxation – it’s does not shy away from in depth, luridly graphic (and pornographic) descriptions of a variety of sexual encounters. Do I think it’s tragic that Elizabeth spends the entire novel desperately trying to please her husband by performing acts she doesn’t necessarily enjoy and longing to be given permission to be with another man? Yes, but that’s because I don’t believe in and would never want to participate in such a marriage. However, I admire and embrace the frank openness with which Roche writes. I can’t imagine there is anything she would shy away from discussing (or, perhaps, doing – this is the same Charlotte Roche who offered to have sex with Germany’s then-president Christian Wullf if he decommissioned the nation’s nuclear power plants). If nothing else, the novel is quite thought-provoking and while I found it neither outrageous nor shocking, I imagine quite a few will. Read at your own risk. 3/5.
I’m not really expecting any comments on this one, but feel free to surprise me. I would actually love to hear opinions on sex, monogamy, and the modern relationship. I’m fully aware that this is not the type of site that usually attracts such discussion, so I’m willing to accept the thoughtful, ponderous silence that I’m expecting.
As it’s important to be well fed before entering a brothel, Elizabeth and Georg eat Italian before their encounter. Elizabeth order Spaghetti with shredded vegetables.