Your Blue-Eyed Boy by Helen Dunmore

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Your Blue-Eyed Boy

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Like her other novel TALKING TO THE DEAD (1996), Helen Dunmore’s YOUR BLUE-EYED BOY deals with the past. The heroine is Simone, a judge in her forties living in a village on the English coast, and the character the title refers to is Michael, her lover twenty years before in a village on the New England coast.

When Simone left Michael and returned to England, she became a lawyer. She married Donald, an architect, and now has children, Matt and Joe, still boys. She accepted the judgeship to make more money, for Donald’s business has failed. So has his spirit, and this has infected their marriage, though not Simone’s love for their children.

At this point, Michael reappears. He sends her letters and photos of their loose life together, that lead her to suspect blackmail. She finds herself stuck between a past that could destroy her present, and a present that wants nothing to do with her past.

Then Michael himself arrives. At first, he is mysterious about what he wants. His friend Calvin who took the pictures is dead, he himself has been in a mental hospital, and age has disfigured him.

Michael confronts Simone when she is out walking near the sea, and from then on she feels him watching her house in the dark. She has kept him secret from Donald all along, and still does, but now this wears her out, as do the cases in her court where people accuse others of damaging them, and her need, for her children’s sake, to console Donald for the damage to his pride that failure has caused.

Then Michael tells her that what he really wants is her and the past they had together. He even has a plane ticket for her to return with him to Annassett, the village where he still lives. In exchange for sex with him on the beach, he lets her tear up the photos he has brought.

The sex has a sour magic to it, and Simone finds herself, as of old, pulled in by the strength Michael’s body has never lost, and by his love for boats and the sea. She cannot go with him, but she cannot do without him, either.

What happens to Michael then makes Simone see that she does not want to kill her past, while the case she has to judge shortly after her last meeting with Michael, concerning a woman whose need for her children is at stake, makes her see that she cannot surrender her present.