THE PLOT: Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo is about 74-year-old Barrington Jedidiah Walker (Barry). Despite moving from Antigua to Hackney with his young wife in the 1950’s, he’s still full of energy and fond of the London nightlife (much to his wife’s dismay). But Barry has a secret. He has been in a relationship with his childhood friend, Morris, for over sixty years. As his marriage reaches a crisis point, Barry grapples with his sexuality and the decision whether to come out to his wife, kids and grandkid after a lifetime of hiding his true self.
RATING: A loveable rogue, Barry’s story is worthy of four stars. He’s the type of character who rarely gets to steal the spotlight in literature but there’s so much under the surface. Told in the first person with a speech-like vernacular, it’s a character driven novel that gets under the skin of someone who’s lived their life in the closet.
GOOD BITS: My favourite sections were the chapters from the point of view of Barry’s wife, Carmel. I know, I know, this is supposed to be Barry’s story, but I like how Evaristo didn’t shy away from depicting the damage inflicted by Barry’s lifelong affair. Through these chapters you can see how Evaristo’s style has developed and there’s distinct passages that clearly influenced her Booker Prize winning novel, Girl, Woman, Other. And, as the chapters progress through each decade, you get a portrait of a woman establishing her needs against the vague backdrop of the feminist movement.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I wanted more action. Although I usually love a meandering character-driven novel, I think this book needed a few more plot points. Barry spends most of the novel grappling with the momentous decision of whether to admit his affair, divorce his wife and come out as gay. However, I think the book would’ve been more exciting if there were external plot points to force him to act, rather than the reader staying in his head.
For example, I liked the characters of Barry’s daughters and grandson but I felt they could’ve had a stronger role in development of the plot. There’s only one incident with these characters that drives Barry’s decision, and even that doesn’t have a material outcome. In particular, the daughters work well as examples of different attitudes to love and relationships (providing a mirror for Barry’s actions) but they don’t become independent agents in the story.
OVERALL: You should read this. Not just because it’s about an elderly, black, gay man (though it ticks a lot of woke bingo points), but because it’s good writing. The characters come to life through Evaristo’s use of different sentence rhythms to evoke speech and internal monologue. And, jokes about being #woke aside, it’s an important story that’s unique to literature but not unique to life. Ultimately, this novel is as much about sexuality, race, ageing and immigration, as it’s about being true to yourself. And the universal themes mean I’d recommend it to all and sundry.