Chatto & Windus, £12.99 Order for £11.69 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
My Policeman By Bethan Roberts
Tuesday 20 March 2012
Bethan Roberts's My Policeman was initially billed by its publisher as a novel inspired by E M Forster's relationship with a married constable, Bob Buckingham. Now it appears shorn of any reference to the author of A Passage to India, and it soon becomes clear why. Roberts's account of a polysexual ménage à trois has not simply been transposed to Brighton, but reimagined as a very different story. It is more obviously informed by Peter Wildeblood's Against the Law: the 1955 account of being prosecuted for homosexuality.
Its protagonist Patrick runs Brighton's Art Gallery, and has very different tastes to Forster; he re-reads Agatha Christie novels. In penning the indiscreet 1950s journals, he contrasts sharply with the cautious novelist, whose allusions to sexual partners were either coded in his journals, or locked away, or both. As a result of Patrick's rashness, and an impetuous act by Marion, rival for the policeman's affections, he is indicted for gross indecency.
Roberts deploys her research carefully, honing a novel with a strong period feel and a sprightly structure. It alternates between Patrick's record of his affair with PC Tom Burgess and Tom's wife Marion's memoir, written 40 years later.
The debt to sources, however, can be too pronounced. Conversely, some imaginary details prove far-fetched, such as Patrick's description of his lover's "lovely Brighton accent" as "very non-U". The reference to Nancy Mitford's 1956 volume Noblesse Oblige fits the period, but his distinction in class terms is wrong.
But many details are spot-on: Patrick's decision to befriend Marion before Tom proposes to her, to conserve "a crumb of him" for himself; his euphemistic references to homosexuality and rich period slang.
I wasn't convinced by the melodrama of the conclusion but the novel does capture the enforced evasiveness practised before the partial decriminalisation of gay sex in 1967. Forster himself was happy to write to a newspaper concerning the legal reforms recommended by the Wolfenden Report – but in support of the honour of the "married women" who did likewise. His lunch with its author remained a secret.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant