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Paper Houses: A Memoir of the 70s and Beyond [Paperback]

Michele Roberts
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
Price: £8.58 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over £10. Details
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Book Description

3 July 2008

Rebellion, revolution, experimental living, feminist communes, street theatre, radical magazines, love affairs - gay and straight - sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Michèle Roberts, one of Britain's most talented and highly acclaimed novelists, now considers her own life, in this vibrant, powerful portrait of a time and place: alternative London of the 1970s and beyond. A fledgling writer taking a leap into radical politics, Roberts finds alternative homes, new families and lifelong friendships in the streets and houses of Holloway, Peckham, Regent's Park and Notting Hill Gate. From Spare Rib to publishing her first book, Paper Houses is Roberts' story of finding a space in which to live, love and write - and learning to share it.

'Beguiling, enthusiastic, charming and vivid, this is an autobiography to be savoured' Amanda Craig, DAILY TELEGRAPH

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (3 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844084086
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844084081
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 321,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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** 'She is the eternal female vagabond, somewhere between the gypsy and the lunatic, with the freedom, pain and visionary nature of both (AMANDA CRAIG, DAILY TELEGRAPH)

** 'Told from the perspective of an intelligent woman with acute powers of observation. Her writing is vivid and sardonic by turns, the period brought to life with accounts of clothes and meals, whose importance Roberts (unlike many other writers) has alw (JOAN SMITH, INDEPENDENT)

** 'Roberts's sensuous, uninhibited, often beautiful writing is filled with lush and lavish descriptions of food and places and people and love affairs. (JESSICA MANN, LITERARY REVIEW)

** 'The 12 novels she has produced... are remarkable imaginings of houses and landscapes and the desire for aquisition. This beguiling memoir travels the rootlessness that inspired them. (PENNY PERRICK, SUNDAY TIMES)

Book Description

* 'A masterpeice' Kathryn Hughes.

* Now out in paperback

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting 3 Jan 2010
I picked this up in a small independent bookshop on holiday and finished it in a day. Even though radical feminism often seems either comical or boring to me the author's story is fascinating and the book is very well written. An accurate and interesting representation of a particular section of British intellectual/literary/bohemian/feminist life in the 70's and 80's
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling vagabond life 25 Aug 2011
By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER
A lively, very enjoyable and eminently readable autobiography, covering Michele Roberts's life from her arrival in Swinging 70s London fresh from an Oxford degree in medieval literature to her discovery of the Women's Movement and street theatre while training as a librarian, a brief period spent working for the British Council in Bangkok as a librarian, and years spent moving from part-time job from part-time job and from house to house all over London (from Camberwell to Peckham to Stoke Newington to Holland Park to Notting Hill to Bayswater to Tufnell Park and more in between) as she evolved as a writer. The memoir goes on to cover Roberts's early successes as a novelist and poet, a short none-too-happy marriage to an art historian (which led to some wonderful periods in Italy, at least), a second, much happier relationship with a painter and eventual fame when her novel 'Daughters of the House' was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. There are many vivid and entertaining portraits of literary and cultural figures, including Sarah Lefanu, Sara Maitland, Cassandra Jardine, Sarah Dunant and Doris Lessing (though the portrait of Lessing is not entirely a fair one - I think Roberts's attitude to Lessing's Sufism is rather harsh). Anyone who's lived in London will relish Roberts's descriptions of the different areas in which she lived and how the city changed in her many years there. As far as descriptive language goes this has to be one of Roberts's best books. And she is certainly a very likeable protagonist - I particularly relished her descriptions of shopping at market stalls and second-hand bookshops, and buying dramatic clothes to cheer herself up, and of the wonderful meals that she cooked for friends.

My only problem with the memoir is that Roberts takes herself so very seriously.
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Not many books could contain all of these sentences:

1. 'All my life as a writer I have loved the semicolon.'

2. 'I had seen Suzy Seven-Up in a bar on Patpong smoking seven cigarettes through her c*** at once: I showed Bertie that I could do the same.'

3. 'I was so terrified I shat my trousers.'

4. 'Goodness: I'd become a lesbian.'

5. 'I could watch the sunset melt into blue-grey night, pick out the coiled lazy snake of the motorway, creased and glittering with cars, the oblongs of tower-blocks pitted with gold. Above me, jets trailed jewels.'

The author writes nicely, whether it's on the wonders of working as a librarian at the British Museum or detailing her various London flats and the people she shared them with, and there are some very evocative passages:

'In summer, people kept their long fron windows open to the night, rectangles of gold releasing the hot clatter of jazz.'

As another reviewer noted, she takes herself very seriously. Not necessarily a bad thing. As an insight into life in London in the 1970s this is a fascinating and rewarding read.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Degrees of Separation 27 July 2010
One reason that I like books of autobiography and memoirs is that they so often show how near, in terms of the famous "six degrees of separation" people usually are from each other in terms of connection. That struck me again, reading this work of memoir.

It would be hard to imagine someone more apart from me in terms of life, politics and generally than this lady (lol...she would execrate that description, I think!), yet I find that in terms of places and even people known, she is not as far from my past life as I might have imagined. After escaping from a Roman Catholic convent-educated childhood and from what seems like a pretty middle-of-the-road family background, she launches into an extraordinary lifestyle of (after a slow start) some men, some (perhaps more) women eventually, all the time not just writing about radical politics and especially radical feminist/Lesbian politics, but living the (?) dream, which seems to me to have been more of a nightmare.

I find that the authoress, who was born in 1949, seven years before me (using the now-derided term "authoress" deliberately, of course) knew a couple of people known to friends of mine (Chad Varah, the founder of the Samaritans, for one) and even seems to have known people I met once or twice: she became friendly with Doris Lessing, though my own connection with the famous novelist was an awkward tea party with a mutual eccentric acquaintance and I think both DL and I both wished we were elsewhere!

Likewise, Ms Roberts seems to have taught at the City Literary Institute, or "City Lit", an adult education institute off Drury Lane and where I was enrolled as p/t student about the same time, circa 1980, though her subject was Creative Writing and not the Russian Conversation for which I attended once weekly.
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