From Mary Magdalene to Devdas’s Chandramukhi to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the ‘Hooker with a Heart of Gold’ is such a familiar character that the exception to the rule would seem to be one with a heart of flint.
Dawn Annandale’s story is a true one. And it rings true too. The portrait she paints of a nice, middle-class English mother up to her ears in debt, with six children to feed, clothe and educate, and a husband who seems to be supremely unengaged in the family’s daily struggle to make ends meet, is one that many nice middle-class women can easily identify with. Needing to earn a hefty amount of cash – and fast – she chances upon an advert: “Attractive girls required for escort work. Earn up to £300 per night.” For a woman on the edge of a financial abyss, the option is not just tempting, but pretty much the only one left.
As a rookie hooker, Annandale is lucky to land a sympathetic doctor and a dishy security guard amongst her first clients. The first gives her sound words of advice about protecting herself from disease; the second – after remarking “You’re just asking to get yourself murdered” – gives her some self-defence basics to protect herself from violence. Armed with this valuable knowledge, she embarks upon her new career with a shade more confidence. After all, there are no training schools, no qualifications needed this kind of work, but it’s a profession in which you need to wise up pretty quick if you don’t want to end up ill, injured or dead.
She wrestles with doubts, but any moral qualms she has are quickly quashed. After all, she rationalizes, “Many marriages and relationships were a case of ‘I’ll look after you if you screw me three times a week’.” Primarily, and overridingly, as she tirelessly points out thoughout the book, she’s doing it “for the children.” In order to ensure that her own children have the happy and secure childhood that she so lacked, she would “do anything.”
Annandale spends her nights on the game and her days being supermum. Ironing PE kits, packing lunchboxes, tidying up, soothing scraped knees and helping with homework. That she could be all this and a prostitute is the long and the short of this book. Look, she seems to be saying, even normal, decent, good girls like me can earn money for sex. And as for the men who use prostitutes, they seem – with a few glaring exceptions – to be normal, decent, blokes too. Men who “were a little bit lonely, who just wanted a bit of company and some sex. This was a face of prostitution I hadn’t expected… My first job was behind me. I found myself marveling at the ‘normality’ of the whole event.”
Unfortunately for the reader, ‘normality’ doesn’t make great copy. In addition to “wife, mother, escort”, her job titles sadly do not extend to “writer.” Stylistically flat, structurally linear, and lacking in anything but the most pop-psychological self-awareness, the fact that a prostitute can also be a nice, normal woman is simply not a strong enough peg upon which to hang an entire book.
It would take a very hard-hearted reader to condemn any woman for becoming a prostitute out of sheer financial necessity. But it would take a spectacularly soft-headed one to not wonder a bit about Annandale’s definition of “need”. It transpires that one of the main reasons that she in such dire financial straits, is that she insists that all of her children (that’s six! Count ‘em) have to go to private schools. For a family subsisting on the earnings of an office secretary, such a decision seems foolish to the point of perversity. Not only that, but little Emily must have her trip to Paris with the choir, it would be unthinkably cruel to deprive Charlotte of her horse-riding lessons, and as for buying their uniforms second-hand, well, “I knew it was stupid pride, but…. everything had to be new. I didn’t want anyone looking down on my kids.”
Like Julia Roberts’ character Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman, Dawn Annandale also “wants the fairy tale”. And she gets it. The ‘happily ever after’ ending is the only part of this numbingly mundane read that stretches credulity beyond its natural limits.