by Bethan Roberts
maybe you saw paparazzi shots What leaked last spring: Harry Styles and Emma Corinne, two of Britain’s most obsessed young stars, hanging out together on a pebble beach in the resort town of Brighton. Dressed in 1950s holiday robes, they were shooting a scene for their upcoming film, “My Policeman,” based on Bethan Roberts’ stunning 2012 novel.
While film and television have eclipsed literary fiction at the center of the cultural conversation, it must be admitted that sometimes cinema saves novels from moldy ambiguity. That’s certainly the case with “My Policeman,” at least for American audiences; Roberts’ novels – her third of five – sparked a flurry of interest in an upcoming film to be published in the United States. Less a love triangle than a dueling guitar battle, the novel concerns a handsomely locked police officer, his tender, long-suffering wife and her secret lover, an erudite, slightly outdated museum curator. It’s nine years since Roberts’ Lacrimose gay novel became a sensation here.
When “My Policeman” was first published in the UK, it had only one star attached – a man arguably even more influential than Harry Styles. Roberts called him a three-dimensional . based on affair de coeur On novelist EM Forster’s long-term relationship with a police officer, Bob Buckingham (they met in 1930), and Buckingham’s ex-naturally open-minded wife, May. While Forster’s devotion resulted in a kind of peaceful domestic co-dependence with the married couple (Buckingham not only made Forster his son’s godfather, but turned to the author on his deathbed), Roberts’ desires and drives The filthy bumps of dreams thwarted, heartbroken, betrayal and prison sentences. This story is as old as it gets, but, to my mind, it has never been told so effectively, mainly because Roberts keeps us emotionally invested in both sides of the tug of war.
The narrative toggles between the diary entries of the wealthy and educated Patrick Hazlewood from 1957, who encounters a hunky patrol named Tom Burgess on the Brighton streets, and in 1999 Marion, Tom’s wife, who enlists Patrick to take care of her. There are written reflections of what has been taken in the house. For him after a debilitating blow. Through these competing narratives, Roberts portrays the conflicting love stories of both Marion and Patrick, who were Tom’s rivals at heart. One side provides the socially sacred but deeply unsatisfying web of heterosexual marriage, the other the sexual obsession and aesthetic sophistication of illicit 1950s cosmopolitan gay life. Tom, the object of desire, remains a cipher throughout. But Marion and Patrick come alive in their respective classes, serving as complex, convincing, and at times, appropriately petty heroes. Roberts is very good at sensory descriptions – Marion, a teacher, describes the school’s smell as “sweet milk and chalk dust, mixed with the children’s sweat”; When Patrick sees Tom for the first time, he thinks “instantly of that wonderful Greek boy with a broken arm in the British Museum. Just as he glows with beauty and strength, so does the warmth of the Mediterranean Sea from him.” .
The novel’s real accomplishment lies in how Roberts replicates the stereotypical desires of a straight, provincial woman and a sly, posh, gay man. It is Marion who is cast as the outsider and interloper, and her longing for Tom is presented in a way that has traditionally been reserved for one-sided homosexual desires. She describes her infatuation with Tom as “unnatural” and admits to feeling “deep and secret things” during their troubled courtship. Meanwhile, Patrick, who is having full sex with Tom, harbors a more traditional fantasy, “as if we were — well, married.”
It’s hard to think of a more clearly possessive adjective in a book title than “My Policeman” lurking like an open secret..Roberts’ novel ends with a life-shattering act of duplicity. This is not a happy story. It’s better than that, frightening and honest. As Patrick admitted in his diary, “the policeman’s watch is an extremely risky business.” Sometimes, the thrill of risk is reason enough to look back.