Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Joining a new book group is always a little nerve-wracking however your first choice for a book club I think even more so. By then everyone has got to know you but not necessarily what your book taste is. I decided to take an educated gamble with my first choice and choose Mr Loverman, the latest of Bernadine Evaristo’s novels, after having heard her read from it back in February at a Penguin Bloggers Night where she had everyone laughing – a lot. Throw in the fact that several people whose opinions I trust had loved it. Oh and I thought the subject matter would cause some interesting discussion after I read someone somewhere calling it a geriatric Caribbean Brokeback Mountain set in Stoke Newington…

Hamish Hamilton, 2013, paperback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Mr Barrington Jedediah Walker, Esq is a character. He is a smart dressing, rum drinking, well off property developing 74 year old, the father of two daughter, husband to Carmel and owner of a decent house. He has also been in a secret relationship with his best friend Morris, and has been since there teenage years in Antigua. Now as his marriage seems to be bringing him more and more unhappiness, his daughters having fled the nest, he is wondering if it is time to come clean with his wife, who thinks he is out most nights womanising, and tell everyone the truth – can he actually do it though?

My first thoughts, well after initially thinking it was sweet that at 74 he was so in love before then thinking ‘hang on, he is cheating on his wife and lying to everyone around him’, was just how on earth Barry had got into this situation, then why he hadn’t left his wife sooner. The latter is something wondered by Morris who at one point in their past, which we get revealed slowly but surely in flashbacks, after his wife leaves him after discovering their secret before her eyes and he wants Barry and himself to be together, Barry refuses and a major bump ensues. Now it seems things might be different, though Barry has a slight issue with everyone knowing that he is a ‘buggerer of men’ as he puts it. As for how this all started, we soon learn that the Caribbean is not a place where homosexuality is responded to well and it is this background to the story that creates the situation they all find themselves in.

I’d been under such pressure back home. A young man showing no interest in girls, when he could have any one of them? I was twenty-four when I married Carmel, and I’d almost left it too late for some. They was talking, and I was afraid I’d be up before a judge on some trumped-up charge of indecent exposure; or end up lying on an operating table with a bar of wood between my teeth and electric volts destroying parts of my brain forever; or in a crazy house pumped full of drugs that would eventually drive a sane man mad.

What I thought was wonderfully done by Evaristo is how fully realised her characters are, with the exception of Barry’s daughters, one stereotypically spiky, the other so camp you know what will happen there. Barry is a charmer and quite loveable, he is also a man who has big secrets and even with the most carefully constructed life the pressure is mounting, cracks are showing and can’t be covered up no matter how big a smile you put on your face. He is also a bit of a swine, the way he treats Carmel, even if sometimes she asks for it, is often harsh and also incredibly chauvinistic admittedly in part due to his social upbringing. Yet you like him and feel for him, even if you don’t always agree with how he handles his issues.

Carmel is also a very interesting character. Initially I really disliked this woman who came across as a controlling harridan, always demanding to know everything and berating her husband no matter what he did good or bad. However as the book went on I really felt for her. This is a woman who longed for love, way back when she was a girl and one of the most handsome men around took an interest in her. Yet really she is a smoke screen for Barry and all the more saddening as it is unwittingly so, which really hit me and I think Evaristo has done this purposefully, if the society of Barry and Carmel’s upbringing had been more tolerant then these people wouldn’t be in this mess. Of course Carmel doesn’t know all of this or why Barry is so distant, and can only guess – wrongly, the result is the same though, she is unloved and turns, with the addition of post natal depression after baby two, to bitterness.

…on your own again, isn’t it, Carmel?
late this night, praying up against your bed, waiting for him to come home, knowing he might not come home at all, but you can’t help yourself, can you, acting like a right mug as the English people say…
waiting, waiting, always waiting…

If this all sounds thoroughly depressing, trust me it isn’t. Mr Loverman is brimming with humour which makes all the sad parts all the more heartbreaking. I don’t often belly laugh out loud but I did often and (very) loudly thanks to Evaristo’s humour which always comes along just at the right moment. There are several wonderful set pieces based around Morris’ observations or Carmel’s coven of friends who live in fear of the homosicksickals their Pastor George forewarns them of. Small minds can make big laughter, which also leaves poignancy in the air.

Merty’s getting into her stride now; plays her trump card.
‘And another thing, I hear from very good authority on the grapevine that Melissa is one of those women who lies down with women.’
Yes, you go-wan Merty. All roads in  your dutty mind lead back to sex.
‘Yes , I think I heard that too… er…’ Drusilla says unconvincingly, glancing nervously at Merty but determined to continue her id for power. ‘What I always say is, if woman was meant to lie with woman, God would have given woman penis.’

As you may have guessed I really, really loved Mr Loverman (what’s more so did my book group, I think it is one of the highest scoring books in a while) and found it a funny, touching and thoughtful book on a subject which I don’t think many authors would write about, there is still a huge stereotyping and homophobia towards black gay men which makes this book all the more important. One of my books of the year, and an end of year surprise rather like My Policeman at the end of last year, and one which has also introduced me to an author I have been meaning to read since Blonde Roots and now will definitely read much, much more of. Highly, highly recommended reading!

6 Comments

Filed under Bernadine Evaristo, Books of 2013, Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books, Review

6 responses to “Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I’d heard good things about this from Annabel’s blog, and now you’ve confirmed that this definitely is a must-read!

  2. Simon, your review is so much more complete than mine. Bravo! I agree with absolutely everything you say, and I really felt for Carmel as the book goes on, and I liked the contrast when Evaristo tells her sad story. I must admit, I so loved Barry, that I was slightly blind to his bad bits!

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