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2019 - Shortlisted
The Trauma Cleaner makes a highly original contribution to life writing, subverting and expanding received ideas about identity formation and the role of narrative. Sarah Krasnostein writes what she sees, observing her subject, Sandra Pankhurst, in her role as a trauma cleaner; in the fragments Pankhurst conjures of her past and her own imagination, trying on roles and identities that appear – sometimes fleetingly – to fit the facts. Krasnostein then asks why she, the biographer, sees as she does.
Krasnostein is the faithful, disciplined reporter of messy detail and the spellbound biographer, at once dedicated to reporting Pankhurst’s elaborate specialist knowledge and beguiled by the lessons in truth her life seems to offer. Pankhurst exerts control over her biography in ways rarely seen; through action she speaks, cleaning the homes of vulnerable, traumatised people, conversing in the most nuanced ways on matters of seeming unimportance, and in her startling asides. The reader feels ‘there’; slapped with a wet dishcloth, made to see the world from Pankhurst’s vantage; ‘righted’ in Krasnostein’s terms. Biographer and subject do what life writing does best; they truly take their audience elsewhere.