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The International Writers Magazine: Review

Call Me Elizabeth (2005)
Dawn Annandale
Time Warner Books
ISBN 0-7515-3698-9

Emma King review

A story of abuse, rape, prostitution, marriage, money and family values, there are few issues Call Me Elizabeth doesn’t explore. Told from her own point of view (with the aide of a ghostwriter) and with the benefit of hindsight, wife, mother and ex-escort Dawn Annandale, spills her heart out in this refreshingly real and honest autobiography.
I was captivated by this book, finding the author’s perfect balance between description, storytelling and reflection an absolute must read. A story for every female out there; this tale sums up how far women will go for what they want and what they believe is best for their kids. It’s a tug-o-war between one’s own needs and that of her offspring; a time old tale with a beautifully sincere angle.

Beginning with an escort agency advert, Dawn sets out the real topic of the novel; before reflecting on her past and the reasons for taking this path. Looking back at her history, Dawn explains her motivation for prostitution in terms of financial struggles and wanting the best for her six children. She ruminates over her parents, grandparents and unstable childhood, grieving over the abuse she suffered as a young girl; a disturbing but well-written remembrance.

As the book progresses, Dawn reveals her journey from young girl to married mother and escort, dwelling on her choice of husbands and boyfriends, purchases and expenses, friends and clients, and pimps and madams. With conscientious thinking and self-exploration, Dawn’s own thoughts seem to be structured through this novel, in a way that seems to help the author herself understand what she went though.

Call Me Elizabeth is a far cry from the glossy world of Belle Du Jour, replacing sexual delights with the real world of prostitution; exhausting, dangerous and hardcore. It faces up to the actual life of a Pretty Woman at work and it’s not encouraging. From an unknown line of male commitment phobes, unfortunate lookers or men into extremely odd fetishes for clients, Dawn suffers verbal abuse, rape, sexual diseases and abortion; doing little to adhere to Billie Piper’s smiley face in Secret Diary of A Call Girl.

So what was the author’s intent in becoming a fully fledged escort? Dawn aims to save her house from financial misery and keep her kids in private school. A moral mistake of her own perhaps, forming a need for quick cash. Surprisingly, however, it’s not her choice of career that is the most disturbing of her decisions.

It’s not long before her long term husband Paul becomes the most irritating character in this tale, made more disturbing when you remember he is an actual person and not a fictional villain. You can’t help but scream at Dawn for staying married to such a useless piece of shit, whatever the concerns for her children’s stability may be. She also defends this act of denial with the confession that she was in love with him, which as an outsider to her life we cannot judge. But as readers into her world, you just want to kick this man in an uncomfortable place and give this fantastic writer, but somewhat misguided soul, a big hug! With her independent attitude and never dying spirit, Dawn deserves someone far better, who she finds in new love interest David. David becomes entangled with her marriage and kids, making it even harder for Dawn to keep track of her secret night life and continuous necessary lies.

However, despite understanding Dawn’s need to protect her children, especially after such an unfortunate childhood of her own, you do feel somewhat angry at her. It doesn’t seem humanly possible for one person to put themselves through so many ordeals that could have been avoided. Had Dawn faced up to her debts sooner instead of ignoring the mounting bills, not to mention her insistence on private education, maybe she could have saved herself from the trials of life as a call girl.

Therefore, the only criticisms to be made of Dawn’s novel are her unrealistic values and lack of self-appreciation, which although understood by the reader, makes the author somewhat annoying. I think it is the effect her tale has on upon you; reading her achievements as a mother will make all other’s feel somewhat ashamed of their own efforts. She is like Super-Mum meets Super-Woman. There is almost nothing this lady can’t cope with; making her seem a tad unreal, and probably causing many readers to reluctantly self-compare their own motherly qualities. However, Dawn makes a strong and lovable lead role, her annoying flaws making her a little more human and offering the readers a chance to empathise with her.

It has been suggested that many readers are only interested in those who stray from the path of righteousness. What is touching about Dawn’s tale is that we almost want her to stray, if doing a social wrong means creating a moral right. Realism is definitely what captures you here; knowing these events actually happened make Call Me Elizabeth far more emotional, as the author means every word.

I must say, I’ve not rooted for a character like this since I read Waris Dirie’s autobiographies. Dawn can be agonising at times, creating more problems for herself, but the way she looks back at these decisions fills you with reassurance as she realises where she went wrong. Dawn might not be rueful of her choices nor does she praise them, but she does give a real account from her own perspective and the opinions of those around her. An opposing personality and perhaps an unlikely choice, but Dawn Annandale is a role model for every woman out there. May this book help her family and her to move on; she deserves to shine! A tale of true reflection, complete honesty and no regret; good luck to the author!
See for news on her sequel ‘Call Me Madam’.

© Emma King December 2007>

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