Ra Page On:
Red Enters the Eye by Jane Rogers
Jane Rogers is a virtuoso of the first-person narrative. Whether she’s delivering a novel-length performance, or in her award-winning radio plays, she is a master of the monologue. Nowhere is this skill more evident, though, than in her shorter fiction. Short stories provide Rogers with just enough time to quickly assemble an entire world around the narrator, with a little extra, left over, to allow doubt to creep into the readers’ minds that perhaps this world isn’t quite as they’ve presented it. To work effectively, Rogers knows that this element of doubt has to be subtle, shifting, difficult to pinpoint; it cannot come clunking into the story in the form of dramatic irony – that device so over-used in soap opera solely to flatter the audience; it has to work, paradoxically, in the service of the narrator, making us the reader root for them even more. Jane Rogers does this by giving her characters conviction, an unwavering belief in themselves, despite everything. In the case of this story a gifted young textile designer, Julie, quits Britain to work for a Nigerian women’s refuge, confident in the belief that this is her chance to make a difference. After some doubts about coming across as patronizing to women, Julie quickly grows in confidence, putting her plan in motion: to teach sewing skills to the women of the refuge, to make them financially independent. Like so many of Rogers’ characters, Julie is buoyed up on her own confidence; she enthuses, she takes calculated risks, and she refuses to be deterred by obstacles put her in way (for instance, the reluctant refuge director, Fran). But whilst we’re endeared to Julie’s cause, we sense that there is something else going on in the refuge and, even if we sense it before Julie does, we completely forgive her for not spotting it soon enough. Jane Rogers’ power, as a short story writer, is to show us the ultimate fallibility of any point of view. There are blind spots – and there always will be blind spots – with any single point-of-view, no matter how intelligent or diligent the viewer. Julie isn’t an unreliable narrator, just a human one – contradictory, passionate, gullible even. But it is her flaws that endear her to us.