:- In the ﬂesh
Writer Michele Roberts talks to Thom Dibdin about birth, death and her new novel.
Freddy’s mother is dead. Matricide.
Wandering Soho. Freddy envisions the wanted posters until. forced by the rain
into a clothes shop. a pink chiffon dress :
catches his eye. He becomes she. And she begins telling tales. a [angling fantasy of stories set one inside another.
; so contrived that as each gives birth to the next. it is left hanging. unresolved.
For those who have read Michele Roberts' previous novels and short stories. Flesh and Blood will hold no real surprises. The mother-daughter relationship. Catholicism. eroticism. birth. death and a schizophrenic
, French/English personality are all ? there. related in her slightly voluptuous
manner, which often uses textures and food as vocabularies for sensual pleasure. What is different is the nested short story structure.
‘I arrived at that structure because I realised I was writing about breakages and broken relationships.‘ says Roberts. ‘l always feel the structure of the novel must embody the themes. I realised that the way to embody the theme of brokenncss was to break the story in half. The way in which each story gives
birth to the next story. was just something I was interested in developing. I call it matcmal narrative. It is partly the device you get in 100/ Nights or Philip Sidney's Arcadia. I was interested in birth being embodied somehow in the structure too: the book
is about a birth. Although it starts with a death it ends with a birth.‘
Reading the novel is the literary equivalent of mastering a maze. As you
. ' 1». Michele Roberts: maze-maker
' finish one part. the next leads you off in a different direction until you reach the heart of the maze and realise you have
to find your way out again. It is during this return journey that you really come
- to appreciate Roberts's talent. As each
story comes back into focus. you find your perspective has been altered.
‘I didn‘t want to write a book that would irritate people. be too clever
clever for its own good. but I wanted to
I write a book that would be a puzzle
people might enjoy.’ says Roberts. ‘There are different ways of using the short story. When you use it in a novel as l have done in Flesh and Blood. it was in order to have a lot of different voices telling the story. Although it is the same person. Freddy. spinning fantasy after fantasy trying to make sense of her life. I wanted her to be someone who in her head has many characters. many voices. The short story seemed an ideal way ofexploring that.‘
The benefit of leaving so many different stories unfinished is that the final part of the novel becomes a multiple orgasm ofendings. Not all end satisfactorily and some are even premature. but all leave you with a glow.
‘Sensuality for me covers a huge range ofexpericnce. certainly including food.’ says Roberts. ‘lt isn't just about heterosexual love- making. so i have been interested to try and extend the meaning of it a bit. The language in our culture for describing sex isn't really adequate. There is a very banal language. a clinical language. a medical language. a gynaecological language. a flowery language ofeuphcmistic repression. there is a pornographic language. None of those is quite adequate. lf you want to actually get inside someone who is doing sexual things with someone else. you really have to struggle with the language.‘
I‘lt’S/l uml Blood by Mir'llélc Roberts is
published by Virago (II [14. ()9.
*2‘4ri‘tA-lt . .. . at}; "z,- T RAQUAIR , .g; .32; NEED LEVVQDK v.4 - -~ - .- i'; E E
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72 The List 9—22 September I994