I watch a tonne of cleaning and hoarding shows; you name it, I've probably watched at least one episode. (See below). So, when I learned there was a biography about Victorian based trauma cleaner Sandra Pankhurst, I was immediately onboard. And that was even before I learned just how fascinating a life she has led. In her life, Sandra has had several names, been a husband, father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman and trophy wife.
Sandra is now a trauma cleaner with a business in Frankston, Victoria (Specialised Trauma Cleaning STC) and deals with cases of hoarding, deceased estates, flood, fire, crime scene clean up and more.
Author Sarah Krasnostein has known Sandra for several years and has done a great job documenting Sandra's upbringing and complex life, given her subject's unreliable - and sometimes, complete lack of - memory. (I shared the author's anger and frustration at the end when she learned her subject still wanted to donate her estate and remains to a University instead of her newly re-discovered son. Argh!). Sarah's persistence and determination to tell her subject's story, warts and all, definitely shines through.
Early in the book on Page 16, Sarah writes of Sandra:
"She has been intuitively righting her environment - cleaning it, organising it, coordinating it, filling in gaps where she can, hiding them where she can't - since she was a child. It is her way of imposing order on her world and it brings her profound satisfaction."The biography unfolds in chronological order, with client stories interspersed between the chapters and it flows well. I wanted more of the client stories - and the way in which Sandra changes their lives - and a little less of her own backstory, but I think that's just personal taste.
There's no doubt Sandra has led an amazing and unusual life, but it's her work as a trauma cleaner and business owner that interested me the most and I was left wanting more.
My rating = ****
P.S. Here are just some of the cleaning and hoarding shows I've enjoyed watching over the years: How Clean is Your Crime Scene (watching on Netflix at the moment), Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, How Clean Is Your House, Anthea Turner: Perfect Housewife, Call the Cleaners, Clean House, Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive.