Permission by Jo Bloom: ‘We need to talk’

Cover image for Permission by Jo BloomIt’s seven years since I reviewed Jo Bloom’s debut, Ridley Road, based on a conversation she’d overheard between her grandfather and an old friend. You may have watched the BBC’s excellent adaptation of this novel about fascism in ‘60s East End London. I enjoyed it very much and was eager to read her new book when it was offered. Entirely different from Ridley Road, Permission explores the fallout from a couple’s decision to open their marriage after twenty-two years together.

She understands what it’s like to love the bones of a person, yet for your heart to feel like it might suffocate under the familiarity

A drunken argument between Katie and Matt over Katie’s infidelity has surprising consequences for Fay and Steve. Theirs is a long marriage, challenged by the difficulty of conceiving their second child but sound and loving. After Katie and Matt have beat a hasty retreat, Fay and Steve discuss the evening as they always do. Fay raises the idea of an open marriage, something they’ve already discussed at her instigation and dismissed. Steve is reluctant but persuades himself that it might be good for their marriage. Rules are made and Fay sets out on her adventures which take a surprising turn when she meets an old university acquaintance. Vivacious and beautiful, Emma’s rackety life is the antithesis of Fay’s who becomes obsessed, her usual capability and control stripped away. Steve is left floundering, his own attempts at freedom meeting a sad end, anger mixing with concern for both Fay and their six-year-old daughter, already vulnerable. It seems that far from the sexual fillip Fay envisaged, their marriage is suffering an onslaught from which it may not recover.

He’s out of his depth. He wants to put his hand over his ears. He wants this all to stop

I would’ve happily accepted the offer of a proof based on Permission’s premise even if I’d not read Ridley Road. Long term relationships fascinate me, perhaps because I’m in one, although I’m not about to confess it’s open you may be relieved to know. The set up for Bloom’s novel is an interesting one. Fay and Steve are an entirely believable, ordinary, early middle-aged couple who have weathered difficult times. They’re happy, loving and settled, surviving the usual everyday ups and downs with ease but Fay has always regretted her sexual inexperience and is eager to explore, convinced it can only improve their marriage, while Steve goes along with it out of love for her rather than a desire for freedom. What ensues is well drawn as Fay’s customary control falters once sexual obsession grips her, all rules broken, openness turned to deception. Not the page-turning piece of storytelling that had me riveted with Ridley Road, but a thoughtful, perceptive exploration of open marriage and its consequences. And kudos to Legend Press for publishing this straight into paperback, just the right format for it.

Legend Press: London 9781915054562 260 pages Paperback

7 thoughts on “Permission by Jo Bloom: ‘We need to talk’”

  1. This sounds like a well-delivered story. This particular route has never tempted me. but = this shopuld be an interesting read – perhaps partly because of that.

  2. I have an acquaintance whose husband wanted an open marriage. Like Steve, she tolerated it in order to keep her husband but it didn’t work and he left anyway.

    I knew the Ridley Road series was based on a book and I meant to get it once I was enjoying the series (although it was very scary!). I think that is more my sort of book than Permission but I liked your review.

    1. Thank you. That’s a sad story. Might work for some, I suppose, but I imagine it’s quite rare.

      The adaptation seemed very true to the book to me and I know Jo Bloom was happy with it. Scary, indeed, and shocking, too.

  3. I’d forgotten about Ridley Road! Thank you for the reminder, it looks a great read. This appeals less but I can see it could be a useful way to explore two individuals and their life together.

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