As someone who loves exploring new books based on blurbs and descriptions, the premise of Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo immediately appealed to my fancy. I mean, it’s not every day that you get to read a story about closeted elderly men, right? You can find lots of LGBT stories nowadays, but only a few of them touch on the aging gay man in such a humorous way.
The novel tells the story of Barry Walker, a 74-year-old husband and father of two, who is contemplating on divorcing his wife and finally living in the open with his secret partner, Morris. The question is, how is he going to do it? His wife, Carmel, would hear nothing of divorce because of her staunch Christian upbringing. His elder daughter, Donna, is too much like her mother for Barry’s liking. His youngest daughter, Maxine, seems too immature even at age 40. And Morris keeps on pressuring him to finally leave his wife and kids to be with him after decades of waiting.
According to Barry, “The whole point of midlife crisis is to start living the life you want instead of tolerating the life you have.” But Barry’s situation wasn’t easy-peasy, with two kids, a grandson, and a wife whose father just died. Un-for-tu-nate-ly.
From Barry to Carmel
If there is one thing that I admire Evaristo for in this novel, it is her skillful use of point of view. Since Barry is the protagonist in the story, it is but natural to use his POV in majority of the story. With that simple decision of using the first person POV for Barry, Evaristo has expertly weaved the POV with setting and characterization.
It is quite easy to get to know Barry and the inner turmoil he is experiencing beneath his tough and seemingly intellectual-slash-pretentious exterior. I’m not used to the patois of Antigua, but it shows that even though Barry lives in London, he is definitely Antiguan by origin and at heart. It definitely gives the novel a unique voice and local color.
However, just because you are the protagonist does not mean that you’re the most lovable character. It is easy enough to sympathize with Barry at the beginning of the novel as you take a glimpse at his rocky relationship with Carmel and feel the unhappiness that he’s going through in his loveless marriage. But again, through the use of POV, Evaristo shows the reader Carmel’s side by alternating Barry’s chapters with Carmel’s chapters. Thus, the reader also gets to hear Carmel’s side of the story, and realize that Barry is not the sole victim in this whole charade. It shows two kinds of the coin, and readers realize that the antagonist is really just someone who has opposing goals with the protagonist. Barry wants divorce, while Carmel would hear none of it.
It is interesting to note that the titles of Barry’s chapters start with “The Art of…” while Carmel’s chapters start with “Song of…” The ways that they are narrated are different as well. In Barry’s chapters, Barry tells the story in his own voice. In Carmel’s chapters, however, it is Carmel’s thoughts that are laid on the table, but a narrator tells the story in a somewhat poetic tone. I’d like to think that since Carmel is a woman, her voice is somehow more dramatic than Barry’s, necessitating the poetic style. As for Barry, labeling the chapters as an “art” clearly shows that he has mastered playing pretend already, just like how art necessitates mastery and expertise in producing it.
One of the pitfalls of using the first person POV is making the character too talkative for the reader’s liking, which is why I got tired of Barry’s character as the novel progressed. In fact, I looked at Carmel’s chapters as a sort of reprieve from Barry’s overbearing and talkative nature. I understand that as an elderly man who often reminisces about his past, there is bound to be a lot of things going on in his head. However, I couldn’t really imagine myself finishing the book if it was all told in Barry’s POV, with all his complicated words and foreign patois. That being said, I think that the shifting POVs is definitely a smart move for the author.
Evaristo has succeeded in making the characters multi-dimensional, except for Morris. As Barry’s long-time partner, I expected to read more about him other than being the person who pressures Barry into admitting their romance and divorcing his wife. But that isn’t the case in this novel, as even though Barry tries to describe Morris in various ways, the descriptions always end up patronizing, often one-dimensional. In fact, I enjoyed Donna and Maxine’s characters more than Morris’.
But perhaps, what the reader really needs to learn is that the story does not center around Morris and Barry, but Barry and Carmel. That is also probably the reason why I felt a little cheated with the ending, when it was time for Barry and Carmel’s big confrontation. I won’t divulge the details here to avoid major spoilers, but suffice it to say that I expected more from Barry there rather than some resolution brought about by a third party. It felt too easy, like Barry was easily let off the hook and given his happy-ever-after with Morris.
Nevertheless, I’m really happy that I gave this novel a chance. Barry is hilarious, though sometimes in a really mean way. Carmel’s chapters are heartfelt and beautifully written. I love the fact that the reader is treated not just to one story, but several others.
It’s the story of a closeted and elder gay man in the 21st century. “We all present carefully selected versions of we-selves to the world at large.”
It’s the story of looking back and regretting your past choices. “This is what happens when 75 percent of your life is in the past. Each step forward triggers a step backward.”
It’s the story of sweet marriage turned sour. “Divorce: such spiteful-sounding word—but such an appealing concept. Marriage: such a softly seductive word—but such a spiteful reality.”
It’s the story of families, the role each member plays and their responsibilities. “Funny how things pass down, until one day you realize we all morphed into each other.”
It’s the story of Antiguan immigrants in Great Britain. “We had chosen to emigrate, so we expected foreignness, whereas they hadn’t chosen to leave their home but all of a sudden it was full of foreigners.”
It’s the story of incarceration and freedom. “If someone asks for their freedom, you got to give it to them; otherwise you become their jailer.”
But most of all, it’s the story of coming to terms with oneself and realizing that there’s never too late a time to just be yourself.