Wrecked by Charlotte Roche
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Release Date: 25th April 2013
Source: Advance copy from Fourth Estate–muchas gracias!
Synopsis: From the author of the international bestseller ‘Wetlands’, a raw and taboo-breaking novel of sex, death, and marriage.
‘It’s easier to give a blow job than to make coffee.’ That’s what Elizabeth Kiehl, devoted mother of a seven-year-old, thinks to herself after a particularly inventive bout of sex with her husband Georg. She goes to great efforts to pleasure her husband in the bedroom and beyond, doing whatever it takes to make him happy. Elizabeth is also an extremely thoughtful and committed mother to her daughter, compartmentalizing her life for the sake of the family unit. But her perfect mother and wife act hides a painful past and a tragic rift in her psyche – the result of a terrible car crash in which her brothers and mother were involved.
Extraordinarily candid, Charlotte Roche returns with a provocative, semi-autobiographical novel that explores what is expected of a twenty-first-century wife and mother. Her story will provoke and involve you to the very last page.
Charlotte Roche… you either get her or you don’t. Roche and her novels inspire a degree of polarity in people; she’s like the Marmite of fiction… and while I’m not a fan of Marmite I’m certainly a fan of Roche’s work. I won’t go into her first novel, Wetlands, which made for awkward reading. We’re here to talk about her upcoming second novel, Wrecked, which is due out 25 April.
First, the blurb from the back of the book:
“Elizabeth Kiehl is a twenty-first-century wife who goes to great efforts to please her husband in the bedroom. She is also an extremely thoughtful and committed mother. But her compartmentalized life is taking its toll and Elizabeth is heading for complete psychological collapse.
Wrecked is a taboo-breaking novel of sex, death and marriage that is impossible to ignore.”
You might think from just that little snippet that the book is only about sex. Well, yes, it is mostly about sex. But there’s a lot more to the sex like the reason behind all of the sex and the weirdness going on in Elizabeth’s head. I’ll come back to this in a bit.
Let’s talk about the cover quickly. Genius. It recalls to mind the cover for Wetlands in its simplicity—a single object on a very bright background. For Wrecked, we’ve got the Virgin Mary. Now, that’s what I’m interpreting and I’m not an overly religious person so if I’m wrong someone please correct me. If it is, in fact the VM, it makes sense given the context of the book—Elizabeth is trying to be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect everything… all while compromising herself mentally to do it.
My god this book was like a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole. Elizabeth is a total basket case, rationalising some eye-raising behaviour, like accompanying her husband to a brothel even though she hates it, by saying that if she doesn’t her husband is sure to leave her. The root behind a lot of Elizabeth’s idiosyncrasies has to do with abandonment—of her mother, her father, brothers and her husband. In the case of her mother and father, Elizabeth chooses to be the abandoner, saying:
“But I still think it’s best to try to cut them off once and for all, forever. I know you don’t like the word ‘forever’, but I’m allowed to use it because I mean it—even if you don’t like my saying it, and even if you think I can never get rid of them on the inside, like a fucking virus. One that doesn’t just go away. AIDS in parent form.” (pg. 45-46)
One of the major facets about this book that I found disturbing and interesting (because you can’t have one without the other) was that despite all of the weird shit going on with her, I really identified with Elizabeth and some of her thought processes. I found myself frantically highlighting passages that I saw myself in and reading them to my husband in a pleading voice, if for no other reason than to make sure that I wasn’t Elizabeth “in real life”. (*Note, seeking validation from N was also a very Elizabeth-like thing to do.) The fact that I related with her fear of the building collapsing or with her relationship with her parents or her view of fidelity scared the bejeezus out of me. For example:
“I’m sick of being a fucking adult and still wondering every year on my birthday whether or not my father has remembered it. He still manages to mess up my birthdays, and I still think about how he always forgot me when I was a child. Okay, sure, he didn’t forget me—like you always say, he only forgot my birthday. Sure, sure, but when you’re a child that feels as if he has completely forgotten about you.” (pg 46)
“Sometimes a bit of guilt can make things more exciting than they were before. Because you no longer take everything for granted.” (pg 84)
“Hopefully something really bad will happen to me again soon. It can’t go on like this—that I keep picturing the most horrible things happening without anything ever actually coming to pass. I have a crazy sense of imagination. That just dreams up new horrific scenarios. I think the scenarios out to the smallest level of detail.” (pg 106)
There were many more, some much more personal than what I’m willing to get in public.
If I had to rate Wrecked I’d have to give it 4.5 stars out of 5. Make no mistake, I didn’t love this book in the conventional sense. It was difficult to put down because Elizabeth was interesting and, frankly like a grisly automobile accident. You can’t help but stare and thank the stars that it’s not you involved in that mess. There’s something appealing about the madness and misfortunes of others that makes you thankful for your own screwed up life and Wrecked definitely plays up to that. While I didn’t enjoy the book, I can appreciate it and I honestly think that’s what Roche intended with Wrecked.
This novel was a very uncomfortable read—not because of the subject matter and the graphic sex and (UGH) the worm scenario—but because I think we can all find a bit of ourselves in Elizabeth, a bit of us that thinks “shit, I do that”, and that commonality makes us uncomfortable. We don’t want to be able to relate to Elizabeth because she can be pretty repulsive, because she thinks the things we’re afraid to. In Elizabeth’s madness and bizarre rationalisations is a bit of each of us, no matter how depraved or innocent we are. Bravo to Roche for putting it all out there in the open and for once again making us cringe and question ourselves.