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Interesting tale of life as a prostitute's maid
on 13 March 2011
Barbara Tate gives us an insight into the life of the prostitutes of Soho in the late 40s and 50s. It's an easy, page-turning read, but it's short on detail - it seems a bit bland, generic and emotionless. Maybe she's just not a great writer. She says she has fictionalised her story somewhat.
It starts well, with her leaving a cruel grandmother and setting up on her own in a bedsit, working at a firm producing hand-painted furniture. She then gets an evening job in a bar, and eventually a job as a maid to a prostitute called Mae. The early descriptions of Mae's filthy "hustling flat" in a deserted building are compelling. She is also clear-eyed about the way the "ponces" preyed on women, giving them the illusion that they are in a relationship while taking all their money. (Has that changed? I doubt it.)
I am sure that the details she gives of how a prostitute carried on her trade (with a two-way mirror, and bound and gagged clients left in the waiting room) are true to life, but I feel that she has taken anecdotes she's heard and woven them into her own story. And not all these anecdotes are as "hilarious" as she thinks them. The middle of the book is padded out somewhat with these anecdotes.
She says that she wrote the story in 1977 - dictating it to her husband. After a few rejections, she found a publisher, and an editor who cut the manuscript and gave it more "flow".
I wonder how much of what we read is the work of editors? It reminds me of the books by "Miss S" about her life as a prostitute - both the flatness of the prose and the peppering with "amusing" escapades.
The end, where we learn of the sad fate of Mae, is truly tragic.