Dymphna Flynn’s Book Review

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts

Diallers might remember the disruption last May when Harry Styles (gratuitous pic, below)  came to town and lorries and crews took over the area for filming of the adaptation of My Policeman by Bethan Roberts, which was first published in 2012 and was a Brighton City Reads book choice.  

In Peacehaven in 1999 Marion narrates her story through memoir and flashbacks to Brighton in the early 1950s when as a young teacher at St Luke’s, she falls in love with Tom, her best friend’s handsome older brother. He teaches her to swim in the shadow of the pier, and when he asks her to marry him she is overjoyed, despite hints that he is “not like that” and his close friendship with Patrick, a cultured museum curator.

The clue to the novel is in the word ‘my’ – Marion and Patrick both love Tom, and have to share him. It’s a heartbreaking tale of a threesome obsessed with each other in various ways. Tom needs the safety of his marriage, Patrick is besotted with Tom, and Marion won’t let go. Patrick opens up Tom’s eyes to a glamorous sophisticated new world. At times Marion’s obliviousness seems unbelievable, but her dawning realization of the truth and her reactions feel true to life.

Roberts was inspired to write the novel by EM Forster, who once lived in in Brunswick Place and fell for a married policeman 20 years his junior. Because the story is told through Marion’s and Patrick’s point of view, Tom is strangely less present in the book. Although both sides of the story are completely gripping, Patrick’s narration is the more engrossing. 

We also see two sides of 1950s Brighton, and the era and seaside atmosphere are beautifully conjured up with the underground gay scene – drinkers in The Spotted Dog, drag queens selling sequins on the seafront – and a straight majority who get on with their lives none the wiser. Plus there’s an element of tension with Tom being a policeman and the fact of homosexuality being illegal. 

My Policeman is a moving and sad portrayal of two people obsessed with man. The film is due for release later this year, with Harry Styles as Tom, Emma Corrin as Marion, and Rupert Everett as the older Patrick. 

Dymphna Flynn is development producer at Pier Productions and judge on the Costa Book Awards

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