Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

Stan-The-Man we called him. He was living in a house across the street when we moved to the Dalston/Stoke Newington area of London. He shared it with three other Jamaican men. Our St Lucian neighbour introduced us and we soon understood that he looked out for her, a single parent. When we wanted our house painted he did it at mates’ rates. He was unfailingly courteous, friendly, and cheerful.

We became aware that not all was well in his house when we heard loud arguing one day. Soon after their front window was broken by something heavy thrown from the outside. Our neighbour told us that Stan had taken in a troubled youth, but it hadn’t worked out. Corrugated sheet over the window stayed until the danger was passed. Then Stan told us he had made enough money over the decades in London and was returning to Jamaica to retire. Soon after his house was bought by an upwardly mobile white couple. We missed Stan.

119 MangalI was reminded of Stan and his companions when I read Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo. The axis of the action is Kingsland Road. It runs across the top of my street. Turkish cafes are mentioned, even I get a mention in a potted history of population movement of Stoke Newington.

The socialists, feminists and workers revolutionists descended on Stoke Newington over time. … women with short hair, men with long hair, our people with balloon hair; donkey jackets, dungarees, dashikis, bovver boots of many hues; and so forthly. (p120-1)

Reading Mr Loverman I feel aching nostalgia for London, for the metropolitan rich variety of Hackney, including the dandified appearance of some of the older male black residents.

118 Mr LovermanThere are more important reasons to enjoy Mr Loverman. Barrington Jedidiah Walker is a very attractive character, a charmer and a bit of a dandy. I wanted him and his life to come good, especially as he has reached his seventies. He is soft as anything as regards his lover and his daughter, Maxine. He treated his wife Carmel very badly. Here’s how he describes himself.

I am still a Saga boy. Still here, thanks be to God. Still spruced up and sharp-suited with a rather manly swagger. Still six foot something with no sign of shrinkage yet. Still working a certain je ne sais whatsit. I might have lost the hair on my head, but I still got a finely clipped moustache in the style of old Hollywood romancers. Folk used to tell me I looked like a young Sidney Poitier. Now they say I resemble a (slightly) older Denzel Washington. Who am I to argue? The facts is the facts. Some of us have it, some of us do not. Bring it on, Barry, bring it on . . . (p6)

The characters in this story suffer, from the poverty of opportunity in Antigua, which brought so many from the West Indies to a new life in Britain. Barry invests successfully in property so that by the end of the novel he is a rich man, able to support himself and to be generous to those he cares about. His wife Carmel suffers from the humiliations of a loveless marriage, and the betrayal of her hopes for their marriage and life in Britain.

Barry may be an attractive character, but he is weak, fearful and secretive about his strongest attachments and concerned for his own comforts and ease. He is gay and has been in a constant if not monogamous relationship with Morris since they both lived in Antigua. Being gay in Antiguan society was not acceptable. Nor was it in Britain, and especially in the Black community. In a vivid scenes Barry recalls the murder of another black guy known to be gay and was himself beaten up and taunted with being a ‘batty boy’. He is still fearful, and it takes connecting with much younger gay men to enable him and Morris to be more open.

But more then anything, Barry is afraid of revealing the truth to his wife Carmel, who believes he goes with other women. He has deceived her about his sexuality since they married, and it creates different hells for them both. He wants to end the lie, but fears her reaction and those of her friends. Here Carmel and her friends are discussing what will happen if Daniel (Barry’s grandson) turns out to be gay. Daniel storms out of the room.

A voice wades into the conversation. ‘Look how you upset this young boy.’

Is this me talking?

‘You should be ashamed . . . insinuating things. How you think that make him feel? And my daughter don’t need to justify herself to anyone in this room.’

Merty blinks and swivels her head away from me, as though her head is set on ball bearings and can do 360-degree turn. …

The two Gorgons sit there.

Pumped up. Victorious. Primed.

Candaisy, who rarely says peep anyway, keeps her eyes averted from everyone.

Asselietha’s wearing that screwed-up expression she favours, like her lips are tied into a bunch with invisible string.

The whole lotta them should clear out of my house.

Carmel starts to rattle up the plates.

After such melodramatics, is time for everybody to calm down.

This is when Asselietha decides to pitch in. Why Carmel keeps company with such a nut job is beyond my reasoning.

‘Those homos are rightly suffering,’ she says. ‘God saved us to make us holy Mr Walker, not happy.’

This is what I truly believe happened to Asselietha. Someone sliced off the top of her head , scooped out her brains, put them in a blender and turned on the switch. Once it was all mash-up, they poured the mixture back in through her scalp and stitched it all up.

Maybe that’s why she never takes off that narsy ole beret. (p61-2)

So Barry and Morris have been living a lie for fifty years. The story takes off in the summer of 2010. Carmel goes home to Antigua to attend the funeral of her dreadful father. While she is absent Barry comes out to his grandson, Daniel, and one of his daughters, Maxine. Neither of them respond as he might have expected. Barry, for all his sharp observations, knows no one very well. The lie unravels as Carmel’s return approaches and he faces telling her the truth.

119 Hackney_districtsThe only weak aspect of the novel for me was the sorry figure of Carmel, who had achieved a great deal since she came to Britain – a degree, a career in local government including head of department status, a lover of her own, a strong friendship group. But as we see her, through Barry’s eyes, she is an irrational and rather pathetic creature, influenced by her monstrous friends. In the chapters that she recounts (songs) we see her with more vigour. But Barry’s description remains dominant.

I liked the inversion of the father coming out to his kids, and their different attitudes. And I loved the rhythms of the narrative, both in Barry’s voice, and in Carmel’s songs. And I liked the rare depiction of older people and their predicaments.

105 Fict un

Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo published by Hamish Hamilton in 2013 and included in the Fiction Uncovered list for 2014.

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9 Responses to Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

  1. Eileen

    That is lovely Caroline and your specific point about the father coming out to his kids,
    Thanks for writing this account. I found it quite moving.

  2. Lovely review, Caroline, of lovely novel. Barry is a great example of a likeable but extremely flawed character – wouldn’t you just hate to live with him? Interesting what you say about Carmel– I was certainly surprised when it turned out she’d got her degree and a management role at work. I suppose, though, she lost that status and support when she retired (insert plug for your book) and if she thought marriage had to be for life those disappointments would have worn her down.
    I thought both voices were great but one thing I did wonder about as I read was whether there was enough forward movement, certainly in the early chapters. Inevitably a main character in his 70s will be looking back on life but I didn’t fully sense the jeopardy of his coming out to his family and leaving his wife until the drunken incident with his grandson. Until then, because he seemed such a laid-back character, the challenge he faced didn’t seem so great.
    I’ll be interested to see what others think.

    • Caroline

      So pleased you enjoyed this book! And thanks for the plug for ours!
      I see people trapped in situations that probably wont be difficult to get out, but they are trapped by their fears. That’s how I understood Barry.

  3. Hi Caroline,
    I have just started listening to the book – into the second chapter – so was not aware of much you have revealed in your review. I have enjoyed what I have heard so far and your review, combined with that, certainly calls me to continue. I am looking forward to hearing how Barry’s story unfolds. (Disappointingly I had problems with this book not playing so am not as far into it as I would have liked.) Thanks for your posts about this book. They are what prompted me to choose this one to read and, so far, I am not disappointed.

    • Caroline

      I love it when people read books because I have recommended them. Hope the listening goes smoothly from here. I am wondering how Barry sounds on a CD?
      Good listening!

  4. I really like the way you have used quotes in this reward (actually I really like the way you’ve woven your personality and history into it to) – but the quotes really bring a sense of the book for me. I haven’t read this but I did read one of Evaristo’s other novels – Blonde Roots – sometime back. Having read this, I think I need to explore her works a bit more. Thanks.

    • Caroline

      So glad you enjoyed this review, and will look out for Mr Loverman. I notice your comment about my own connection with the book. I think my pleasure at the representation of Hackney was getting in the way of writing a good review. This seemed to be a good way of dealing with it.
      Please visit and comment again soon.
      Best wishes

  5. Hi Caroline, I finally finished the story today. I did really enjoy it, though felt a little like a voyeur towards the end. Some information I could have done without, but that’s probably just me and my sheltered life!
    I found the conclusion of the story very satisfactory for all the characters, and there was definitely an interesting development of these all the way through.
    Listening to a reading, rather than reading it myself, adds additional interest, though I sometimes find the telling gets in the way – thinking about the accents, the intonation and the interpretation and wondering how I would have read it. Sometimes it took me a while to realise who was speaking.
    Overall an interesting read and I am grateful to you for recommending it to me. 🙂

    • Caroline

      So glad you enjoyed listeing to this. Who read it I wonder?
      It’s a topic that is hidden in literature I think, so this was a good exposure.

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