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Books

Desperate house wife: Why Charlotte Roche's new book isn't for modern women

After "Wetlands" and "Wrecked," Charlotte Roche's latest book is a manifesto for female sexual liberation. But for DW's Sarah Hofmann, the tale of a frustrated new mom who has sex with the nanny is rather anti-feminist.

The first chapter of Charlotte Roche's new book in the best part. We meet the protagonist - or rather anti-hero - Christine. I mean, "Chrissi." That's what she calls herself in her endless conversations with herself. And that's exactly where we join her - in her own head, where she lives out her evil violent fantasies.

Dark humor may be so difficult for us Germans, but even that can't hinder the LOL moments in Roche's opening.

Chrissi's loving and caring husband is throwing a wedding party for his brother and his brother's bride - "the small, happy, bespectacled snake."

Chrissi hates the pleasantries toward the family. Actually, she hates all the people around her. She has PMS and, quite frankly, could strangle someone.

"When someone like these two drunks run straight into a knife then you have to push on it a bit so it really goes all the way in. I read in a Jack Reacher crime book how hard it really is to get even a really sharp knife all the way in," she muses.

Sex as trauma therapy

Charlotte Roche, who used to be a TV host for the German pop music broadcaster VIVA, has already written two scandalous bestsellers. "Wetlands" (2010 in English) was about an 18-year-old who has to go to the hospital after cutting her anus while shaving her genitals. That doesn't keep her from masturbating, though - and from closely observing a whole variety of bodily fluids from pus to menstrual blood to sperm and smegma.

"Wetlands" was the bestseller of the year when it came out in German in 2008 and was also turned into a successful film with the same title.

Charlotte Roche at a reading for her book Wetlands

Charlotte Roche, 37, is British but grew up in Germany

Roche's follow-up work, "Wrecked" (2013 in English), focused on sex within marriage, and was also a hit. The protagonist Elizabeth is traumatized by the accidental death of her brothers; she is reserved in everyday life and feels that only sex can liberate her from her pain. Roche admitted that the novel was highly autobiographical: Her three brothers were killed in a tragic car accident in 2001.

Liberation via lesbian sex

"Mädchen für alles," the title of her latest book, can be translated as "Girl for everything," but is also a fixed phrase in German referring to someone who helps out with a wide variety of small tasks.

Here, yet another scandal - and perhaps also a bestseller? - is programmed in. Christine doesn't only fantasize over violence that she copies from Netflix series: she also seduces the nanny. This time, Roche adds lesbian sex to her growing list of erotic themes.

In Germany, Charlotte Roche is often cited as a representative of a new wave of feminism, since she focuses so unapologetically on female sensuality. Her latest work only confirms that. After all, the female protagonist, who's just had a baby, is the one who seduces the nanny and not - as the cliché would have it - the man.

"I like being an employer! I feel it in my crotch. It puts new wind in the sheets. Oh God, seriously Chrissi? Get a grip on yourself, you think like a horny old hag."

The socially programmed boredom of a new mom

The problem is that what Chrissi achieves sexually evades her in real life. You feel like you just want to shake her and scream, why don't you get a job rather than drowning your boredom in TV shows? And why abuse the nanny when she could be doing what she's there for: Taking care of your responsibilities so you can do other things. (She could still seduce her after working hours.)

In Germany, new parents receive government subsidies that allow them to take a year off work after the birth of a child - which can lead to a high expectation that new moms stay home. Conversely, those that don't are accused of abandoning their babies, which Chrissi ponders intensively, although she doesn't sense a strong connection to her daughter and it's her husband that spends more time with her.

Rebellious but far away from emancipation

Christine is a typical German anti-hero. She feels like a bad mom and can't rid herself of the thought. Except when she's having sex. So it's consequential to just let her dream throughout the novel rather than try to turn her into a proactive decision-maker. She dreams, for example, of murdering her parents in a symbolic act of emancipation. But only symbolic, of course.

Chrissi remains deeply un-emancipated. She can seduce as many nannies as she wants, forget her kid, drink and snort crack - she's far away from self-determination.

The novel drags from chapter to chapter. In 2015, we'd expect to finally get a real hero - like Carrie Mathison in the TV series "Homeland" (played by Claire Danes).

Charlotte Roche quotes from "Homeland" in the novel, along with lots of other Netflix series. And sure, Mathison is bipolar and also a sort of anti-hero. But she acts. She doesn't just dream of chasing terrorists in Pakistan, she actually does it. She doesn't just leave her child in the US because she doesn't feel a connection with it, but because she has better things to do than just sit on the couch at home.

"Mädchen für alles" has been published in German by Piper and is not yet available in English.

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