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But things were too bright, too happy. So little prepares us for the change. As Holden relates her own state of mind as she approached it, her chief hang-ups seem to have been shyness and uncertainty about her attractiveness. Friends from high school had beaten Holden to the triumphant benchmark of deflowering while she had remained chaste. In her own words: She joined a rock band and pierced her nose. All it took for her to extend her arm for a needle was a hint of feeling excluded.
A boyfriend spent a night away from her to try heroin. She became obsessed with trying it too. And so, in no time, Holden was hooked and not long after that, hooking to support the habit, first as a streetwalker, then as a registered sex worker in a series of Melbourne brothels. This is not a book for the squeamish or those delicate about coarse language.
Most of it is unquotable in a family newspaper. Yet in a twist that makes the relentless, graphic succession of stupors and abasements a story worth reading, it is the empathy and self-respect that Holden discovers as a prostitute that gives her the power to eventually beat the drug. Herein lies both the weakness and glory of the book. Holden is so unflinching in her description of the nocturnal sex trade that it would be easy to miss her economy with the sun-soaked world of the family home.
There are countless references to its piles of books but few indications that they had been read, aside from the recurring and reverent references to the decadent glamour of Nin. There is such a blank in the book about the seeds that turned Holden into Persephone as prostitute that the reader is left speculating.
One obvious answer would be that she was addicted to attention, not a drug, and that the shy girl from the bookshop was in fact less of a wallflower than a narcissist and stubborn fantasist who, emboldened by narcotics, saw a way of up-sexing the erotic adventures of her hero, Nin. That path chosen, it then took a stream of opiates and congress with countless men, many each night, for her to sense her power and to acknowledge her needs.