Permeable borders, possible worlds: history and identity in the novels of Michèle Roberts

Rosie White

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Since the publication of her first novel, A Piece of the Night, in 1978, Michele Roberts’ fiction has continually returned to epiphanic moments which elide divisions in time and space. Roberts uses her own experience as a woman of two cultures (English and French), as well as fictionalised histories of other women, to inform narratives in which the borders of history, culture and identity are figured as complex palimpsests. From the quasi-autobiographical narratives in A Piece of the Night and The Visitation (1983), Roberts moved on to rewrite biblical biographies of Mrs Noah (The Book of Mrs Noah, 1987) and Mary Magdalene (The Wild Girl, 1984). In In the Red Kitchen (1990) five female narrators ‘speak’ to each other, creating a textual dialogue in which conclusions are not fixed and time never stands still. Flesh and Blood (1994) offers a series of dovetailed narratives and withholds any sense of closure. With reference to feminist work on time and space, this essay examines the extent to which Roberts’ fiction engages with contemporary debates about the fragmentation and reconstruction of feminine identity. White argues that siting such discussion within narrative fiction offers a logical and accessible location for theorizing the (im)possible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-90
JournalStudies in the Literary Imagination
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2003


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