Words and photograph by Orla Donoghue
74-year old Barringdon (Barry) Walker is married to Carmel Walker, father of two girls, emigrated to London from Antigua as part of the Windrush generation, and since 14, has been having an affair with his best friend Morris. Despite this book being full of comedy and irony, it is also a deeply thoughtful and well-structured book that explores the effects of gay relationships in past and present Christian and homophobic communities..
Throughout their marriage, Carmel and Barry have always been incredibly unhappy, with Carmel even being aware of Barry having affairs, however does not know it is with a man. Their relationship is abusive and entrapping, however due to Carmel’s strong religious beliefs, the two are incapable of divorcing one another and are therefore tied in an eternal cycle of abuse, arguments and a lack of understanding from both parties. Throughout the short novel, Evaristo presents Barry as a man who seeks the courage to be his true self and to be with the person with whom he really loves.
This novel, as with the majority of Evaristo’s work, is largely character-focussed as opposed to plot-focussed, enabling readers to gradually learn more about Mr Loverman with each page read. The first-person narrative further allows readers to understand Mr Loverman’s thought processes, his emotions and also his memories, whilst later on in the book, Carmel is given the same power to share her perspective on events, making this novel a deeply thought-provoking and powerful piece on relationships and the past. This use of narrative also makes the characters more realistic and relatable, displaying how all lives are complicated and full of contradictions, further enabling readers to sympathise and understand the sometimes contestable actions of both Barry and Carmel.
Evaristo’s in-depth analysis and development of her characters in such a short number of pages is a genuine talent and is what makes this book so engrossing. Evaristo also explores themes of education, emigration and generational relationships throughout the book, carefully and flawlessly interweaving them with one another in every chapter, thus allowing readers to explore the intersectionality of Barry’s relationship with Morris with such themes. Barry’s use of intellectual language is almost used as a defence and as evidence of his education in a society that condemns one’s worth on the language they use, whilst his inability to enrol in a three year university course, instead opting for night classes on multiple subjects, is a sign of his inability to commit.
Emigration and black experiences are developed throughout the book through debates of working within or against the system. Barry discusses this in relation to not labelling himself as gay and also through his working career. This links to his being baffled by younger generations protesting that the current system is broken, making readers question whether this is due to irritation or jealousy that people now have the courage to argue against assimilating into the system. It is through spending more time with those of younger generations that Barry gains more confidence in himself, with both old and young learning from one another.
Overall, in this short book, Evaristo explores the intersectional relationship between gay and black experiences in an incredibly engrossing, yet simple way, therefore making this a quick and easy read for anyone hoping to explore intersectionality more deeply.