Wow. I have just finished up my first read of Bernadine Evaristo’s novel called “Mr. Loverman” – and I loved it. There is not one doubt in my mind that this will not make my Top Ten List of books at the end of the year. Right now, it’s tantalizingly close to the top…
Yes, it was THAT good. I enjoyed this read even more than her 2019 Booker-Prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other, so whatever your experience was with that the highly regarded novel, good or bad, there is an even higher possibility that you will enjoy this novel as much (or more).
Such high words of praise, right? Let me tell you more….
The actual plot revolves around Barrington Jedidiah Walker, a 74-year-old British immigrant, born on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean, who now lives his life in Hackney in London. Barrington (now called Barry) is known for this retro dress sense and as a husband, father and a grandfather.
He’s been married to wife Carmel for years and has two daughters.
At the same time as Barry has been married to Carmel, he’s also been living a secret parallel life with his childhood friend and lover, Morris.
Barry’s retired from his factory job and now has some big choices to make. (And never fear. I’m not giving anything away about the plot here. It’s all on the back-cover text of the paperback I have.)
Barry is a joy to get to know – he is cheeky, mischievous, careful of others’ feelings. At the same time, Barry is deeply flawed in some ways and yet this only makes him even more human.
He has a grown-up family with wife Carmel, but he’s in love with Morris (and has been for his whole life since he was a child on his island home). His marriage is going into meltdown and Morris would like him to move in with him into his flat. What to do, what to do.
Evaristo has written this novel mostly from the POV of Barry (with occasional flashes of POV from other characters) and to stay true to that vision, she has written it all in a strong Caribbean accent (mixed up with a bit of London dialect).
At the same time, the story is also deeply immersed in the older Caribbean immigrant culture of Britain and I found it to be fascinating to see Barry glide in and out of these overlapping environments, each with their own particular set of mores and expectations.
Although this novel is a love story, it also addresses the more weighty issues of prejudice, truth (the definition of truth, to yourself and to others), being a good person, love-is-love, family relationships… It sounds like a very heavy read but through these different POVs, it’s handled with aplomb by the author.
Barry is hilarious at times. Once I got the hang of his Antiguan accent, I was swept up into the story and stuck closely with him as he tries to figure out what he wants. He’s a caring man – he doesn’t want to be malicious to anyone but he’s old, his family has grown and the marriage seems to consist of constant bickering.
Morris is his safe haven – but is he willing to risk everything he knows for his childhood friend and lover?
The only downside I saw in the entire novel was the final chapter. It reads as though it’s just stuck on to the plot at a later date and time in that there is a definite change in the writing style and tone. Barry’s POV remains the focus, but the actual voice of Barry is so completely different.
It’s set a year ahead of time (I think), and there is the possibility that the characters could have grown and/or matured in some way. The POV just didn’t even sound as if it was originating with the same character.
The writing style (even some of the word choices) seemed rather out-of-character after the previous 298 pages. It didn’t ruin the novel but I was left rather puzzling about why the book ended up like this.
Despite that little hiccup, I still adored this read. I loved getting to know Barry and Morris, his adult daughters are hilarious in their own ways, and it’s a complex love letter to the city of London and its melting-pot residents.
Just loved this and am now planning a second read. I’m sure that there were quite a few things that I missed in the first time through…
Plus – it looks Evaristo has other texts out there to chase down. <rubs hand with glee>.