Flash Review: My Policeman by Bethan Roberts

One of my students kindly allowed me to borrow Bethan Roberts' My Policeman. Here's what I thought of it.

“Did you know that book was recently turned into a movie, Elke?” – “Why yes, with Harry Styles, wasn’t it?” My student flushed a deep red and was unable to speak, and I smiled benevolently. Her friend stood up for her and added: “No but really, I learned so much about how hard it was to be gay in the 1950s.” Since I’m all for inclusivity, I decided it might be interesting after all, and borrowed the book. Want to know whether it was any good – or whether having Harry Styles playing the title role was its best feature? Read on!

My Policeman is about, well, yes, a policeman, called Tom, in 1950s England. Two people are head-over-heels in love with him; Marion, a primary school teacher, and Patrick, a museum curator. While Marion eventually marries him, she slowly realises that Tom might not return her affections, nor ever has. He might have married her only because it was convenient. But what should she do now she’s aware of this?

Marion is the narrator of the novel – for the most part, anyway. She writes her story exclusively for Patrick, who has lived with her and Tom ever since he had a stroke. She decides to write down her story because she wants him to understand why she made certain choices. What’s interesting about it, is that whenever Patrick makes an appearance in Marion’s story, she addresses him as ‘you’, which makes it feel quite intimate and poignant – especially when she becomes aware of the fact that her husband loves Patrick more than he ever loved her.

I’m glad my students read books like this one; it teaches them so much about history. It teaches them that there was a time when homosexuality was considered such a crime that one was put in prison for it, one lost their job and, basically, their life. It was only in 1967, which really isn’t that long ago, that the law decriminalised private homosexual acts between two men. My students should know this. However, I’m not sure that I would recommend this novel, specifically.

The annoying bit about My Policeman is that it could have been so good; two people, a man and a woman, fall in love with the same man. And Tom, the man in question, never tells the story from his point of view. However, what’s wrong with it is that Roberts also included Patrick’s story, from his diary entries. Why did she decide to do this? It doesn’t make sense, because Marion claimed it was her story – and she never read Patrick’s diary. I know it shouldn’t be that big a deal, but it bugs me.

Furthermore, these diary entries simply don’t make much sense. They were supposed to be written in the late 1950s, but its language is very now, and the style isn’t authentic at all; he says things like “amen to that”, and writes sentences in the annoying style that modern writes employ continuously. It goes like this: they write a sentence. Continue writing. Add something more to it. What’s wrong with using commas and subjects? Also, an educated museum curator would’ve had a more extensive vocabulary.

I know, I know, I’m nitpicking again. It’s just that I hate it when young-adult novelists don’t bother with details like language and style. Oh, and I also hate it when they don’t spend too much time on the consequences of their main characters’ actions. Part three ends with Marion sending the police a letter, informing them of the fact that Patrick is a homosexual. The next part, consisting of Patrick’s diary entries, ends with him being beaten up by fellow prison inmates. And then we move on to 1999. What happened in the next forty years? Did Tom and Marion ever talk about him being gay? What happened to Patrick when he was released from prison? Did he ever get a job again? Did he participate in any Gay Prides? Please, Ms Roberts, tell me!

So, yes, while there are some interesting bits about My Policeman, I still found it lacking in real depth. (It doesn’t help, by the way, that Roberts’ acknowledgements section mentions only two books about homosexuality in the 1950s – I don’t call that proper research.) And that’s a pity. So let’s talk about Harry Styles again: I bet there’s plenty of youngsters who’d read this book only because he played in the movie adaptation of it. Whenever one of my students reads My Policeman, I’ll tell them (still smiling benevolently whenever they silently declare their love for Mr Styles) there are plenty of books about this topic, plenty of which are far superior and and more insightful. That’ll teach them.

What did you think of My Policeman? Have you watched the movie yet? Do you think young-adult books should be quite simple? Am I asking too much of my books again? Have I really become too old for these novels? Which books would you recommend about the same topic? Do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

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