My Policemanby Bethan Roberts
This is a story of two people who love the same man. Firstly Marion, who fell for Tom, the brother of her best friend, the first time she saw him …
He was leaning in the doorway with the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to the elbows, and I noticed the fine lines of muscle in his forearms. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen – barely a year older than me; but his shoulders were already wide and there was a dark hollow at the base of his neck. His chin had a scar on one side – just a small dent, like a fingerprint in plasticine – and he was wearing a sneer, which even then I knew he was doing deliberately, because he though he should, because it made him look like a Ted; but the whole effect of this boy leaning on the door frame and looking at me with his blue eyes – small eyes, set deep – made me blush so hard that I reached down and plunged my fingers back into the dusty fur around Midnight’s ears and focused my eyes on the floor.
The other, later, is Patrick. As the book opens, Marion is setting down her story, telling it for Patrick who has had a stroke.
It’s Brighton in the 1950s, and Thomas – Tom, has returned from his National Service to become a trainee policeman. Marion is now a school teacher, and strikes up a friendship with Tom who offers to teach her to swim. They become a couple, but their relationship is not exactly romantic.
One day, Tom takes Marion to the museum to meet a friend of his, Patrick, one of the curators. Tom has a naive appreciation for art that belies his tough rugged exterior; Marion goes along with it. Patrick becomes a regular feature of the couple’s lives, and still Marion doesn’t suspect … or does she?
Patrick takes up the story in his diaries, and from him, we get to see how circumspect and brave he has to be to maintain a gay relationship during this time when it was illegal – and with a policeman too.
The narrative alternates between the two, each telling us about their policeman. Tom is sometimes quite difficult to read – he has a strong physical presence, but is very laconic, very self-contained and self-absorbed. Our sympathies lie not with him, but with the two people who love him. As their lives pan out, and things take on a dramatic turn which I can’t tell you about, I was so caught up in these lives that I found a tear running down my cheek.
This evening I went to hear Bethan talk about the book at Abingdon Library – she’s a local girl and worked in the library for a while before doing a creative writing MA, and moving to Brighton where she’s now based.
Her previous two novels took their inspiration from real stories and people – The Pools from a local murder, and The Good Plain Cook from the life of Peggy Guggenheim. My Policeman also took its inspiration from a real life – that of E M Forster, his posthumously published novel Maurice, and Forster’s relationship with Bob Buckingham, a policeman, whose wife May nursed Forster after he suffered a stroke.
Bethan transposed the bones of that story from the 1930s into the 1950s for the novel. She enjoyed researching the period, getting lots of extra tips from her mother and aunt about growing up in that decade. The attention to detail shows.
Any novel that can move me to tears has to get my recommendation. I loved this book. (10/10)
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I received my copy to review from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
My Policeman by Bethan Roberts – Vintage Paperback, Aug 2012, 352 pages.
The Pools, The Good Plain Cook – both by Bethan Roberts.
Maurice (Penguin Classics) by E M Forster