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This review is taken from PN Review 42, Volume 11 Number 4, March - April 1985.

THE IMPERATIVE OF MEMORY Sheelagh Kanelli, The Nets (The Women's Press) £2.50
Michèle Roberts, The Visitation (The Women's Press) £3.50


Childhood, Anna thought, is a crystal ball circling round sometimes this way, sometimes that, its facets occasionally flashing with radiance; gleaming with lustre; or black. Childhood is not a straight line.
(The Nets p. 46)


Both of these books are concerned with the way in which the childhood world is fissured by the 'straight line' of adult reality. Memory is the attempt to re-member these broken fragments and make the child whole again.

The Visitation, Michèle Roberts's second novel, concerns the attempt of feminist Helen Home to re-collect her dismembered past. Helen is working on a novel, but is unable to write because of depression and a psychosomatic rash caused by the repression of childhood and adolescent experiences. She is sustained throughout this attempt to explore her past by a growing openness with her mother, the memory of her grandmother, and by a renewed closeness with Beth, an old friend. The biblical metaphor of the Visitation is a crucial one; at its centre is Elizabeth's recognition of Mary's divine pregnancy. In Roberts's novel, it is Beth, herself pregnant, who recognizes Helen's desire to write and becomes the mediator and midwife of her infant-self.

The Visitation catalogues objects and sensations remembered from childhood. For Helen, childhood and its happy union with her twin Felix was a time of paradisal innocence. It was the intervention of the adult world of father, language and religion that made this childhood communion seem ...


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