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.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
- 2 Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered...
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 35,000 walrus gather on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
- 5 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
Thrill of the chaste: The truth about Gandhi's sex life
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'
'Offensive' Banksy immigration mural in Clacton is scrubbed from wall by council
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Former Tory donor Arron Banks ups his Ukip donation to £1million following William Hague 'nobody' comment
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- < Previous
- Next >