Thursday, 20 November 2014

Book Review /Appreciation - "P is for Prostitution" - Charlotte Rodgers

Imagine a mirror that has been painted in a curious manner featuring grotesque images, beautiful colours, abstract shapes, pained expression's drawn on haunted faces, dark sexually explicit acts, perverse couplings, violent scenes, insanity write large on familial occasions, drug and alcohol abuse and then imagine a bomb exploding shattering the mirror into a thousand scattered fragments tossed randomly over a vast expanse - this then is how artist, animist and author Charlotte Rodgers writes her memoir. It is a singularly mortifying experience and yet conversely an edifying one.
The memoir takes shape in a non linear format. The chapters are arranged in alphabetical order rather than chronological. Time shifts in and out of the memory recall much in the way it does when recounting past times during conversation. Dates are mixed but not muddled but slip in at odd moments to reinforce an emotional resonance. This acts to somehow solidify the whole even though its is shaped in small parts. The mirror analogy is accurate. Each exploded shard leaves a mystery yet when moved into place, into the overall setting, becomes instantly recognisable as a life lived yet still being lived.

We all of us can at times feel sorry for ourselves. I suppose it is natural enough especially when life has served you a cruel blow. This account doesn't deal with one unpleasant experience but a whole, continuous raft of them. Even so, and with this very much in mind, at no stage does Charlotte use these awful, sometimes catastrophic events to drag a single drop of sympathy from the reader. Instead she writes with a deft, sparing touch, one that takes each splintered shard, presents it matter-of-factly to you to interpret as you will. Interpret isn't the right phrase. Charlotte leaves no ambiguity nor does she seek to lay blame even if that matter is pretty self evident. No, not interpret but grasp the full ramification of what happened.
There were times I wanted to take hold of both situation and woman and shake them, wake them up, lose my rag in loathsome frustration but that is fraudulent; that is just rage born out of guilt that would only exasperate the situation more, especially when dealing with someone so intelligent, so bright and yet so woefully fragile as the person presented here. And besides my shaking anyone would only alleviate my anguish, soothe my sins. You see, central to this memoir is the shadow cast by men, a great many of them unpleasant. Often it has been their insecurities that have given rise to them demanding possession. This turns to the brutality witnessed here. There can be no excuses.
I think the alphabetical approach, a primer as the sub-title has it, provides an elementary approach which devolves authorial power into the narrative granting an  ease of access otherwise  lost to the reader. It somehow takes the harrowing truth and dissembles it into bite size, manageable chunks.
The harsh detail of the book is unnerving. We none of us wish to learn that such a life can so easily fall into chaos, horror and dreadful despair. And yet, with all the malignant acts that affect her life taking her down the route of heroin addiction, prostitution and worse, she still manages to inject humour, albeit black, into the telling.

I should also mention the incredibly well drawn illustrations which are grotesque like the story told but affable and amusing like the author. They truly reflect both. The artists name is Ruth Ramsden.

Of course one can't help but try and make sense of why all this happened. It is easy, in fact too easy, to blame parents. In this case I think it goes much deeper than that although ultimately proves the case. Yes, Charlotte's mum and dad were a mess, crap parents at times but the abuse of children began not with then but with their parents, or rather Charlotte's maternal grandmother. Catholicism has much to answer for. The almost obligatory abuse had enormous ramifications. The scars of which, mentally and physically, never truly healed.
I closed the final page both glad to be out of the clinging mire of some body else's tragic life but also somehow refreshed to learn that although buckled by such an existence the author has risen unbroken out of the ashes of her past, yes I know it's a cliché but nonetheless true, like some glorious phoenix to live her remaining life anew.
Surely that is encouraging for the rest of us?
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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