Story of an SA sex worker, now in English

2010-12-15 00:00

WHEN giving a stranger an erotic massage, where should you look? At the ceiling? In their eyes? Down there? This is not the kind of question that most people will ever have to ponder but it does give pause for thought about the delicacies involved in sex work.

This girl-from-the-suburbs confessional style, delivered with self-deprecating humour is the saving grace of Karin Eloff’s story of her six years as a stripper and masseuse. It lifts what is otherwise a grubby tale told somewhat disjointedly with the help of a not-so-ghostly co-writer. First published in Afrikaans last year, the English translation is now out and should enjoy a similar measure of success.

In an interview when the book first came out Eloff said that the sex industry is “very Afrikaans”, and Afrikaans people are obsessed with sex because of Calvinism. “Calvinism has repressed a lot of Afrikaans people’s sexuality, so Afrikaans girls are prone to rebel.”

Rebellion and a sense of wanting to find out for herself what sex had to offer are her explanation for how she, “a prissy little girl who did her homework obediently every day and had good manners” found herself living a life that, by her own admission, has few redeeming features.

Eloff doesn’t beat around the bush about what it’s like to take your clothes off for a living. The hours are long and the customers mostly awful. An honours graduate in psychology, she analyses her audiences’ responses to her and the power dynamics that go with selling sexual fantasies. She describes her responses to the men: angry, scared, contemptuous, nauseous. The only way to cope is to drink and do drugs, which she does until engineering pregnancy in a rather clinical way with one of her clients after deciding that she wants a child.

It was when she became pregnant that she stopped using the chemical crutches that helped make the job bearable, and turned to writing as a form of therapy. After editing the Afrikaans girly magazine Loslyf she found her way into mainstream journalism and now works for a weekly tabloid in Johannesburg. Her ability to maintain an attitude of amused detachment should serve her well there.

Shelagh McLoughlin

BOOK REVIEW

Stiletto

Karin Eloff with Carel F. Cronje

Tafelberg

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