Roche's explicit and provocative debut about an 18-year-old girl with a very active sex life was a bona fide sensation in Germany upon its publication earlier this year. Helen Memel, hospitalized for the treatment of an infected anal lesion, spends much of the novel in the hospital scheming on how to reunite her divorced parents. Between visits by hospital staff and her family, Helen shares her vast sexual experience, details how she rebels against her mother's uptightness by reveling in excretions, and maintains a high level of curiosity about her own body (and, of course, others'). Among the graphic sex scenes and tidbits on her avocado tree-growing hobby, Helen dishes gnarly stories about leaving a used tampon in an elevator, dribbling a trail of urine from the bathroom to her bed and eating scabs. Through Helen's mix of eroticism and profanity, Memel attacks conventional views on women's hygiene, sexuality and the definition of femininity. Though there isn't much plot-it feels largely like a buffet of filth and screwing-Helen's take on life is enough to keep the pages turning. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Tales of family dysfunction are a dime a dozen, so another book mining divorce and its aftermath is hardly compelling. What's different about this work is that its 18-year-old protagonist, Helen Memel, copes with domestic fissures by engaging in compulsive, random sexual hook-ups. Using language explicit enough to make the Mayflower Madame blush, Roche recounts Helen's exploits and proclivities. Nothing is left to the imagination-and that means nothing. The book's sassy if confessional tone introduces a 21st-century Lolita whose bravado is slowly chipped away during a prolonged hospitalization, which gives her time to reflect on the traumas she's lived through. It's intense stuff, especially since Helen is full of both sage wisdom and childish neediness. When it was initially released in Germany, this book reportedly caused a sensation, leading to sales of more than one million copies. While American readers may be put off by the text's sexual brazenness, they should get over their puritanical squeamishness. If they don't, they'll miss a novel that is simultaneously exhilarating, moving, sad, and scary. Every adult fiction collection should stock it. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/08.]
Eleanor J. Bader
English translation of a German TV personality's sexually graphic first novel. "As far back as I can remember, I've had hemorrhoids." With this opening line, Roche declares her intention to omit no physiological detail. Readers may take it as a frank come-on or a kindhearted warning, depending on their interest in exploring aspects of the female nether regions that are seldom described outside of hardcore pornography or the gynecologist's office. Eighteen-year-old protagonist Helen Memel narrates the entire novel from a hospital bed, where she is confined after the aforementioned rectal unpleasantness contributes to a terrible shaving mishap. While convalescing after emergency surgery, Helen entertains herself by reflecting on her unhappy family, reminiscing about her sexual adventures and tenderly examining all-all-of her body's excrescences. Indeed, meditations on cervical mucus and related substances make up most of this slender novel, and this, aside from Roche's fame (she's a presenter on the German equivalent of MTV), is the reason why her novel has become an international cause scandale. Abroad, it has been celebrated as an empowering depiction of sexual independence, and a superficial reading would support such judgment. But Helen is hardly a feminist heroine. She is sexually precocious but emotionally stunted. She is afraid to be alone, and, while she may revel in her various secretions, she is ultimately no more respectful of her body than the women who groom themselves into a state of profound unnaturalness. Indeed, Helen's claims that her own filthiness is a political act seem more bratty than noble. When she spits in a glass of mineral water and offers it to a candy striper,it is not the act of a revolutionary; it is the act of a petulant teen. Provocatively nasty but intellectually empty. Author tour to Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Seattle