My Policeman, Bethan Roberts’ third novel, and this year’s Brighton and Hove City Reads, revolves around a Ménage à trois, set in 1950’s Brighton that is doomed from the start.
As an awkward teenager, Marion is befriended by, Silvia. I was thinking – you look alright, will you be my friend? During one of their shared times in Silvia’s bedroom while listening to Nat King Cole, Patti Page and Perry Como, Silvia’s brother, Tom makes an appearance at the bedroom door.
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 hallow at the base of his neck.
From that moment, Marion is besotted with Tom, ignoring all the signals, and the coded advice from Silvia that Tom isn’t the boy Marion wants him to be.
I know you’ve got a crush on Tom. But it’s not the same, Tom’s not like that.
Tom struggles too with his inner emotions about his sexuality. Not because he hates the way he feels, but because society tells him that his feeling are perverse. After a spell in the army, Tom returns to Brighton and enrols in the police force; much to Marion’s delight. Unlike her friend, Silvia, whose main ambition was to get married and have a baby, Marion enrols in teacher collage, sharing the same passion and inquisitive streak as Tom, wanting to know more than the boundaries of Brighton. Although Tom shows little interest beyond a friendship with Marion, she is still hopeful that love will blossom if she continues to persevere.
Meanwhile, Tom’s life is about to be turned upside down when he is asked for his assistance regarding a minor road accident by Patrick; a respected art curator at Brighton Museum and closeted homosexual. As is the case with Marion, Patrick falls deeply in love with Tom on their first meeting. And so begins the tragedy of one love destined to be unfulfilled and one dangerously forbidden.
Roberts presents the story through Marion’s present day manuscript and Patrick’s diary, written during the time of his love affair with Tom during the 1950’s. Through these accounts we are reminded of the hopeless marriages many women unwittingly entered into and the sadness of those men who were compelled to enter into sham relationships; while all the time longing to be true to their hidden sexuality.
Roberts’ is a well cvrafted storyteller, pulling the reader into the world of Marion and Patrick as they both share the love of their policeman. The draconian laws on homosexuality are exposed for their outdated views, with minor characters highlighting the opinions of many at the time that a change in the law about who we can love should be changed.
We all knew he was queer – so many of them are around here – but one can’t help but feel sorry. Sometimes this country is too brutal.
At times her beautiful description of their doomed love makes it nearly unbearable to turn the page as Marion fights to save her marriage, while in equal measures Patrick brings joy into Tom’s life as he swims ever deeper into a world that will ultimately destroy all their lives beyond repair.
Roberts has created a story that once finished, this author felt compelled to start at the beginning and read the whole novel again.