Paper Houses: A Memoir of the 70s and Beyond by Michèle Roberts - review by Jessica Mann

Jessica Mann

Bohemian Girl

Paper Houses: A Memoir of the 70s and Beyond


Virago 337pp £16.99

What fun the young activists had during the early years of women's lib. Michèle Roberts, poet and novelist, describes ‘heady, astonishing, exuberant times’. Political agitation was exciting, sex even more so – talking about it and having as much of it as you possibly could, both gay and straight. Roberts belonged to a street theatre group in which she enacted scenes from The Sensuous Woman, startling shoppers in Chapel Street market by doing ‘a mime of using a vibrator to achieve the multiple orgasms necessary to flatter chaps in bed’. She even managed to get herself arrested and charged with insulting behaviour – a gratifying achievement for a young woman whose melodramatic desire to rebel was based partly on a desperate need to force her parents to understand what she was doing and approve of it, but equally strongly on an obsessive determination to defy the Catholic Church in which she was brought up: the Church twists children's minds, manages them; celibate male priests, scared of their own feelings and desires, have created a theology that splits body from soul; and so on, and on. Reacting as violently as possible, Roberts became a lesbian, ceased to be a lesbian, had kind lovers and unkind ones, went into therapy and left therapy, all the while industriously shocking the bourgeoisie.

In a way this is the record of an era, or an aspect of it. Roberts's experiences were very different from those of most of her contemporaries. She kept outside the job market and had no children, so she already had many of the rights and opportunities demanded by the

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