Apr 10, 2012

The Weeknight Book Club: The Price by Natalie McLennan.

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It's tough being beautiful, isn't it?  Self proclaimed beauty Samantha Brick wrote recently about how much hatred she received from other women simply because of her 'pretty looks'.  Some may argue that her attitude of expecting hatred may be part of the problem, but Samantha herself does not see things this way.  Others of us may argue that the article wasn't particularly well written or moving but perhaps you have to be really, really good looking to have appreciated the deeper subtext.

It was hard for me not to make comparisons between Brick and the author of a book I was reading on my Kindle at the time her article for the Daily Mail went viral.  For some women, their beauty is a commodity that has monetary value.  For Brick it is bottles of champagne and for Natalie 'Natalia' McLennan it was $2000 or so per hour for the pleasure of her company.

'The Price' is Natalie's story, in her own words.  As per the cover of her autobiography, Natalie was New York's highest paid escort in the early noughts.  As you would expect and as a word of warning, Natalie's writing describes a fair bit of drug related and sexual activity both in great detail and also in the language of the street. She is however, able to do this with a large amount of wry humour and intelligent self analysis - which are the two reasons I enjoyed this book as much as I did.

Natalie arrived in New York City hungry with ambition to make it big as an actress.  She already had a strong dance background from a childhood in Canada spent competing in dance competitions with great success.  Her success and natural desire to rebel fuelled the brave move to the US with little money and uncertain citizenship status, leaving her hard working single mother and responsible brother behind in Montreal.

As we all know, competition for acting roles in New York is fierce, even for off, off Broadway productions.  Natalie finds it practically impossible to find paying roles and her alternative options for paid employment are limited.  She also has the added challenges of an unstable boyfriend with whom she shares a drug habit and a love for the underground party scene in the city.

Things become increasingly fraught with her man as do her financial pressures.  Eventually, Natalie finds herself walking into her first 'job' at a party house and the easy money opens her eyes and mind to a fun and lucrative new career.  To her mind, her work as an escort was true to the teachings of modern feminism.  No one got hurt in her purely business transaction sexual encounters, she enjoyed herself on the job, she was admired by wealthy men and most of all, she had financial independence.  She even had her own code of honour, never once being tempted to spill all to her clients' wives or long term partners.

Fate brings Jason Itzler into Natalie's life and heart.  Jason has a burning ambition to head the most successful agency in New York, built on the ethos that if he charged, the people would come (and pay handsomely).  Together, Jason and Natalia (as Natalie was named at work) started New York Confidential whose business cards were famously slim sheets of metal (all the better for cutting lines of cocaine with).

Within months, Natalia becomes an internet sensation and her bookings go through the roof.  With her infamy came the pressure to build 'the business' and with this came an ever increasing appetite for drugs.  It seemed that Jason and Natalia could do no wrong.  A reality TV series was even in the development.

Whether it was the nature of the industry or the psychiatric effects of the drugs or perhaps both, things begin to unravel.  Suspicion and paranoia chip away at the relationship.  The continual drug taking does its worst.  Natalie's close friends try to warn her about the dangers she has now placed herself in but the money and the drugs speak louder.

Eventually, the police close in on New York Confidential and Natalie's world comes crashing down.  She is left without money and her 'friends' cut ties to protect themselves.  At the lowest point, Natalie totters into jail wearing designer heels and is promptly placed in the group detox cell and the indignations that this entails.  She eventually reconciles with her mother and they renew their relationship firstly whilst Natalie is in prison in New York and then back in Canada where they return for good.

'The Price' is a train wreck read.  You know that the ending will not be a happy one and you know why but Natalie's writing gives the journey an added dimension.  It's just the kind of book to read on a lazy weekend.  To me, this novel was not written to condone or glorify a particular lifestyle.  There is no plea for pity from readers and neither is there anything in McLennan's words to suggest that she sees herself as a role model for young women choosing a similar life.  I finished 'The Price' with some insight into what life is like living and apparently being 'highly functioning' whilst nurturing a serious drug habit.  The good times can last for only so long and then the inevitable price must be paid.



3 comments:

  1. I'd love to read this. I just finished reading 'In My Shoes' by Katie Holden, which is another autobiographical read by an ex-prostitute. Her writing is likewise very insightful. She gets into prostitution as a result of a heroin addicition, but continues working in higher class establishments when she is clean. It's an eye opening look at the industry in Melbourne, and I'd recommend it if you haven't read it :)

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  2. I love these types of books, so I'll give this one a go next time I do some Kindle shopping.

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  3. Lorraine @ Not Quite NigellaApril 10, 2012 at 9:41 PM

    Sounds like an interesting book! I missed the Samantha Brick article but having just read it, it's certainly seemed to have gotten people into a tizzy! And so many comments too!

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