BEF 2011/1 – The Professionals [Wales]


The Professionals by Welsh writer Wiliam Owen Roberts is the story, broadly sketched, of the personal and professional relationship between two men.  I say broadly sketched, because there really isn’t much more to the piece.  One of the men, the unnamed narrator, is a therapist of the Freudian psychoanalytical school, and the other, his patient, Mathew (name changed to preserve doctor-patient privacy), is a banker, “not the sort…our fathers used to beg a loan from in their best suits, more the flashy transnational deal.”

Ostensibly the narrator’s recount of the meeting and treatment of one of his clients, The Professionals seems to invite a sub-textual psychoanalytical reading, charged as it is with homoerotic language.  Roberts gives his narrator a clipped, terse voice, truncated slang, more sentence fragment than sentence, often eschewing personal pronouns.  The narrator slows down, however, when he recalls his “professional” weekly talks with Mathew.  We are not given much, here, and the brevity of the piece is marked at five pages, but the sexually suggestive framing of their talk is all but explicit:

I got shafted…If it wasn’t for that bastard I’d still be in a job.  But I got shafted.

“Shafted” was the signifier, pardon my jargon.  The word took him down with it and there he flailed until neither of us could stand it any more.


The “shafting” image was all he could see, with Adrian taking the active role, until our sessions started to go whirlpool.  Things were going bottom up.

As flaccid an indicator as the above may be of Mathew’s possible homosexuality, there is further evidence to be seen in the two failed relationships with women that he has had: one with a woman named Jadwiga (not really), once married to him but now divorced because of his avarice, and another, Anna, a political scientist whom, we may infer from the text, knows more about Mathew’s sexuality than perhaps he does.

Cupidity has long been a sin.  In the past such greed was punished as hubris by the gods.  In the twenty-first century we have given such retributive justice the acronym (that modern invention) GFC – Global Financial Crisis. Homosexuality’s particular punishment – AIDS – is also a thing of modern times.  While the merits of physical intimacy between men in classical pagan antiquity was debated, (particularly pederasty – see Plato’s Symposium), it was certainly not widely considered a moral aberration.  In today’s society of AIDS and GFC, however, the gay Catholic banker, as Mathew may be, is a benighted soul indeed.

But Roberts’ story is not about homosexuality specifically, rather it is about our ability, or, as in this case, inability, to form and hold meaningful relationships, personal, professional, and even peripheral.  And of those strictly professional relationships that are more often one-sided than not – who knows as much about his doctor as the doctor does him?  Whether Roberts’ intention is to layer an undercurrent of modern homosexual tribulation beneath the story, however brief, of a professional relationship, or to simply tell the story of a banker who loses his job and has trouble keeping hold on his relationships with women, we are not given enough to decide, nor even enough to care.

‘The Professionals’ is translated from Welsh by Gwen Davies

This is a review of a story from Best European Fiction 2011, an anthology edited by Aleksandar Hemon and published by Dalkey Archive Press.  There will appear on this website each Friday just such a review until the entire book is done.  For another perspective see Damian Kelleher’s excellent and prolific website.


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