My policeman is a romantic drama novel by Bethan Roberts. It’s set in the 1950s and the drama revolves around an unconventional and illegal relationship between a policeman, Tom Burgess, and a museum curator, Patrick Hazlewood. Unfortunately, Tom and Patrick cannot have an openly gay relationship as it is forbidden by the law and, as a result of that, they must meet in secret.
The narrative begins in the year 1999, when the retired schoolteacher Marion, Tom’s wife, is writing a “confession of sorts” to Patrick, her husband’s lover, for whom she is taking care after a near-fatal stroke. From there, Marion’s letter goes back 50 years, when she first met Tom. She tells her story and mainly talks about her marriage with Tom and her relationship with Patrick. Eventually, the novel switches perspectives and offers Patrick’s journal entries from the past. He writes about his job as a museum curator, and his relationship with Tom (whom he calls “my policeman”). He also navigates his sexuality during a time when being gay was illegal.
As their lives become more entangled, Marion slowly realizes the truth about Patrick and Tom, and when an unforgivable and immature decision is made, their lives change forever, and not for the better.
The novel examines what happens when a gay man is unable to be open about his sexuality, choosing instead to marry a woman in order to hide his feelings. It also talks about the pain and joy both Marion and Patrick feel, knowing they love the same man.
This is such a special and evocative book. It transported me to 1950s Brighton when homosexuality was seen as something deeply shameful. On the one hand, we can see Patrick, a gay man who has accepted his sexuality without any need to be ashamed, he has learned to live proudly and love in secret. On the other hand, there’s Tom, who had never felt sexual attraction towards men before he met Patrick. The novel shows how he discovers himself and explores his sexuality with both Tom and Marion, we can imagine the frustration he must feel when he finds out that he is just like many of the men he brings to prison every day, as well as the fear and worry he feels at the thought of being discovered. Nevertheless, we also have Marion’s point of view, a woman repulsed by her husband’s relationship with his lover. She believes that homosexuality is a sin and a sickness and therefore believes that the best thing she can do is to try to “cure” him.
It’s easy to look at Marion and be completely shocked by the time it takes her to realise her husband’s sexuality, as well as the way she accepts his distant and sometimes cruel treatment towards her. At that time, women were expected to marry and have children, talking about sex was inappropriate, and homosexuality was seen as abnormal behaviour. That’s why Marion has this behaviour towards Tom and why she never considers leaving him. It is quite shocking to read something set in recent history that feels so far from the present day.
Although My Policeman focuses mainly on the trauma of hiding one’s sexuality, it is also a great examination of a woman’s role in a conservative society and its pressures in general. I found it was a melancholic but powerful book that portrays wonderful and complex characters with a beautiful but also devastating plot.
The story is a rollercoaster of emotions, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good drama, as well as an insight into the society of the past. However, if you’re not a big fan of reading, this book was recently made into a film, which is as good as the book, so if you haven’t seen it, give it a chance, I assure you it will be worth it.