Playing the Game

belle-du-jourBut I see friends whose temporary jobs somehow became permanent; couples who marry because they’re supposed to after two years’ dating then have children just to get the in-laws off their backs; single men who have never had to change a nappy talk about their desire for a family; and a generation whose previously self-satisfied mocking of the 1970s has transformed into a genuine desire to recreate that era, complete with disposable and horrific fashion, permanent confusion on the topics of sexual promiscuity and working mothers, and a disturbing attachment to scented candles.

Fucking hell, is that what my life’s becoming?

For years Belle de Jour shocked and riveted audiences with her blog about juggling life and love with her work as a top London escort girl. There has been fevered speculation regarding her identity, and reality: personally, I was convinced Belle was who she claimed to be after the second book, in which she decamps to a remote part of Spain for contemplative hibernation. A fake would have rammed that book with wall-to-wall city copulation.

After two books and a TV tie-in Belle has moved into fiction, with this alternate-reality novel speculating of what might have become of her if she gave up hooking and attempted a normal life. The book is in the same diary format as the previous two, with the same scathing observations and comic lists, but we’ve left behind the debate on the ethics of prostitution. This is a book about the problems of belonging, not the problems of dropping out. And it’s almost surreal to read about Belle buying a house, getting a nine-to-five job, playing with her cat, doing voluntary work at a youth drama group, considering therapy and going speed dating.

This makes the subject matter sound light and bland, but if anything the story is darker and more interesting than anything in the first two diaries. ‘It’s not all about the sex – never has been,’ Belle tells us, ‘it’s about the heart of darkness’ – the darkness at the heart of life: that life is about the management of expectations. People start off wanting to be an astronaut or a rock star, then they want to fall in love, finally they end up aspiring to call centre line management and marrying out of fear of dying alone. ‘The ossification of the imaginary faculties,’ Stephen King writes, ‘and that is called adulthood.’

The narrative pull hooks you in, the wild humour is as fresh as ever – Belle even references Donnie Darko: ‘I’m beginning to doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion’ – but the real mastery is in the prose. Belle du Jour is easily the equal of Amis or Roth when it comes to nailing down the texture of life. When sick, Belle’s ‘twisting the bed-sheets into damp ropes’, she imagines a date ‘doing something to fuck up your life… like leaving your house keys at a homeless shelter’. And contrary to what some have said, there is soul in the style:

My mind has only two states at the moment – one is lean and jittery, the lines of the world drawn sharp and tight, every voice a shout, every footsteps a pounding. Then there’s the other: cocooned in cotton wool unawareness, numb, unreceptive. Every voice sounds so very far away. Times like those I feel like I could step off this crowded Tube platform in the way of a train and not feel a thing. 

Playing the Game is first class, and augers well for a possible move into fiction.

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2 Responses to “Playing the Game”

  1. Sarah Franco Says:

    I loved your story on Osprey Journal !

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    Thanks Sarah – appreciated

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