Hamish Hamilton, £8.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Book review: Mr Loverman, By Bernadine Evaristo
A gay love story that combines the immigrant experience with sexual reinvention
Friday 13 September 2013
Today's readers of gay fiction can be excused for believing that all of the stories have been told. From coming out, illness and grief, to the right to marry and have children, and the nebulous concept of the "bromance", it feels as if novelists increasingly retread old ground.
Those familiar with Bernadine Evaristo's Blonde Roots (2008), contrastingly, will await Mr Loverman prepared for the unexpected. Ingeniously, that title saw the author invert the oft-told story of the transatlantic slave trade, telling the story of a "whyte" Englishwoman, Doris, smuggled to the New World to be owned by her black masters. Evaristo's second prose novel similarly transforms our often narrow perceptions of gay men in England. The familiar trope of the closet is deployed, but contested and reworked in winningly credible, moving ways.
Barrington Jedidiah Walker, an Antiguan-born, nattily-dressed Hackney fixture, has difficult relations with his wife, Carmel, his two children, and his richly adolescent grandson. What he also has is a six-decade long secret sexual relationship with childhood love, "Uncle Morris". Where peers laugh that he and Morris are so close that they may as well be married, the joke, it transpires, is upon the entire community. For "Mr Loverman", at the age of 74, is reviewing his options, finally ready to "come out".
Evaristo's sprightly prose oscillates between Barry's first-person account of how he struggles towards his goal, and a succession of interior monologues from his long-suffering, but uncomprehending spouse, which fill in the back story. The effect is variously comical, agonising and, ultimately, moving. Evaristo tells us of lives we imagined we knew, while rearranging much more than the furniture.
Immigrant gay lives have too often been glanced at only on the margins of "mainstream" experience. Still, the most radical reversal of expectations in Mr Loverman relates to the paucity of novels in which older gay experiences and perceptions play any role. Barry's mental journey revolves around a generationally specific reawakening. After a lifetime of conformism, he comes to appreciate that the 21st century offers new ways of living and loving, and that the young "exhibitionists" on Old Compton Street may, after all, offer him a vital example of how to reinvent himself.
A wealth of secondary characters offers further humorous diversion, such as Pastor George, the hypocritical Pentecostal "slimeball" priest who denounces homosexuality from the pulpit one minute, to be ministered to by a rent boy the next. The novel's epigraph comes from James Baldwin - fittingly, since the laughably misinformed prejudices aired by members of the congregation are most reminiscent of the American author's 1965 play The Amen Corner, resurrected this summer at the National Theatre.
Richard Canning's edition of Ronald Firbank's 'Vainglory' is published by Penguin Classics
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 3 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Avengers: Age of Ultron set to make box office history with $84.5m US opening
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
New on Netflix UK May 2015: From Fast & Furious 6 to World War Z and Grace and Frankie
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
Indonesia executions live: 'Hysterical' families heard prisoners being shot dead by firing squad
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds