A startling debut memoir about sex, work and smack.
A bookish, piano-playing homebody, Holden grew up middle-class in Melbourne, Australia. At college, her heart was broken, and she discovered alcohol. She began reading (and dressing like) Anaïs Nin. She lived in a trendy neighborhood, partied all the time and eventually tried heroin. Soon, her life narrowed to three activities: getting money for smack, scoring and shooting up. To finance her addiction, she stole money from the bookstore where she’d worked for years; after getting sacked, she began turning tricks, first on the street and then in a series of high-class brothels, which are legal in Australia. After only a few months, Holden grew accustomed to using a pseudonym and having sex with eight men a night. The work was degrading, but it had some glamorous aspects, ranging from velvet dresses to the sensation of being “beautiful and desirable.” She felt genuine affection for some of her clients, though she had the sense (most of the time) not to see them outside the brothel. Eventually, thanks to her mother and to methadone, she got clean and left the sex trade. Holden’s prose is subtle and elegant. She has a knack for unusual, revealing phrases, like “baffled by weariness” or “the organized hauteur of the true professional.” If memoirists must make a choice between simply recreating the past and editorializing about it, this writer chooses the former. Her descriptions of the brothels are vivid, but there is something disconcerting about her almost total refusal to interpret her years as a prostitute. Early on, she acknowledges the debate about whether sex work exploits or empowers women, bur she never weighs in explicitly on either side. Too bad, since an analysis based on firsthand experience would be worth any number of distanced women’s-studies treatises.
Beautiful and discomfiting: The words sing, but the singer never reveals her innermost thoughts.