Today I’m stepping away from my usual crime fiction to bring you all a review of Permission by Jo Bloom, a tale of a marriage which descends from bliss to dysfunction in just a few short months. My thanks to publisher Legend Press for the copy of the book for review. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Can your marriage survive if you’re both sleeping with other people?
After more than 20 years of marriage, Fay and Steve are happy enough, though life’s become routine and lacks excitement. Fay believes an open relationship could reignite the spark they’ve lost. But can sex ever just be sex?
Steve eventually agrees to the idea of sleeping with other people, but first they must set some ground rules; no sex with friends, no telling the kids, and a limit on how many times they can see the same person. Can their marriage survive non-monogamy – even if they have permission?
I am a relationship sceptic. Never tried to hide it, and it’s largely to do with my upbringing, but also because I have never quite understood how anyone can say, hand on heart, that they have met the one. If you haven’t met every person on the planet, how do you know that the person you believe you’re in love with is the one and not just the one right now? Told you. A sceptic, cynic, whatever, I always give declarations of devotion and true love the side eye and nod. Reading Permission really hasn’t helped to remove my scepticism as the seemingly near perfect marriage between Fay and Steve descends into a dark and destructive phase after Fay suggests something that Steve would never ordinarily consider – an open relationship.
Now, you could ask how perfect a marriage really is if one partner wants to try sleeping around. In Fay’s defence, it’s made pretty clear that for her, Steve has been it, no other experience as it were, which leaves her wondering. Maybe it will spice up their marriage, maybe it’s just a chance to find that spark that seems to have dwindled between them. And to a certain degree, this is a sentiment I could understand. We are given a good glimpse into Fay and Steve’s lives, the things which have shaped them over the years, the ups and downs that inform their present story, and there are aspects that I can see would lead to the situation they find themselves in. Tensions and emotions not properly explored before that come to a head in pretty dramatic fashion.
Jo Bloom has taken a very interesting premise, a situation that I have no doubt is far more common than any of use might realise, and used it to take a deep dive into the world of long term relationships. To examine the darker side of family life and the way in which even a happy and loving couple could be nursing resentments and desires that they hide from their partner. How the constant wondering of the what if might eat into that happiness and creating small fractures that, if untreated, could be come whopping great fissures.
I can’t speak from experience as I have never been married, but I know how I struggle with long terms friendships so I can only imagine what a train wreck a marriage would be for me. And no matter your relationship status, many will be able to identify with the challenges and difficulties that Steve and Fay have to face head on including difficult relationships with equally difficult parents (hard relate), children who are facing up to bullying at school and acting out in unexpected ways or even the rekindling of friendships with people whose lives seem far more exciting and exotic than your own.
I didn’t necessarily warm to Fay, although I kind of understood where she was coming from. Steve is perhaps more sympathetic, although there were so many times I wanted to scream at him not to be such a doormat, to stand up for himself. But love or loathe them, they got under my skin and I wanted to experience both the good and bad with them both.
The story does take a slightly surprising turn early on, but then maybe it not really that surprising at all. It is the story of someone trying to discover who they are, to give their lives context and to understand some self destructive but utterly compelling attractions that cannot be ignored, no matter what it means to you and your family. It is also an exploration of getting older, of how that fear and uncertainty, a need to feel desired, might drive behaviours that even the most ardent proponents of the ‘open relationship’ are not that sure of.
There is a sense of authenticity with this story, even if it is not your typical family drama type of tale. The characters are complex, their emotions carefully portrayed and all used to drive the story onward. It’s a mid-life crisis taken to the extreme, but a brutally honest look at how succumbing to only your emotions can have a devastating impact on those you purport to love.
And it still hasn’t got me convinced about marriage. Not in the slightest. Sorry.
If you like a searingly honest look into real family life this very likely will be the book for you. Happy reading.
About the Author
Jo’s debut novel, Ridley Road, was published in 2014 and adapted into a major four-part series for BBC One in 2021. Jo has worked as a freelancer in the communications field for over twenty years, with a focus on arts publicity and e-learning. She also contributed to the book review section of Time Out, London for a few years. Prior to this, she lived and worked in Prague and New York. She now lives in Brighton with her family. Permission is Jo’s first contemporary novel.