His name is Morris. He is my Morris and he always be my Morris. He’s a good-hearted man, a special man, a sexy man, a history-loving man, a loyal man, a man who appreciates a good joke, a man of many moods, a drinking man, and a man with whom I can be myself completely. Yes, I was in the throes of a Malibu-and-Coke-soaked madness, a madness that could lead to the demise of my life as I’d hitherto known it. But I was on the verge. – Bernardine Evaristo, Mr. Loverman
I love this book’s cover; it reminds me of “Les Sapeurs”, the fashionistas from the Congo and it was one of the main reasons I picked up this book. And when I learned that the story is about an elderly man who is in the closet, it got even more interesting. This is perhaps my favourite fiction read of the year.
The story is about a 74 year old Antiguan immigrant, Barrington “Barry” Walker, who decides to leave his wife for his lover of over 50 years, Morris. Barry is an interesting character; a polymath and a heavy drinker, with some old-fashioned views but also plenty of wisdom. It is so easy to see him as a bad guy, cheating on his wife and basically driving her crazy in the process due to his emotional distance, not being honest about his relationship with Morris. I think about how different the world is now to what it was then, particularly with gay rights and acceptance, and it’s also easy to see Barry as a victim of his time and his (very conservative) Antiguan culture. Barry decides to take the plunge and come to terms with his sexuality (he initially calls himself a “barrysexual” ).
I appreciated the rich storytelling, the simple truths, and the humour in this book. I also liked the look at the history and the struggle of black immigrants from the Commonwealth in the UK; my parents were two such people :
“This country has over fifty million citizens, whereas we didn’t even have fifty thousand in the whole of Antigua and Barbuda. Folk could get lost here, be anonymous, lead they own quiet lives. In this city you can live on the same street as your neighbours for eighty years and not even say a good morning unless there’s a war on and you forced to share a bomb shelter. Back home everybody kept their eye on everything and everyone.”
“I am not a man given to sourness, but I left those banks with my mouth filled with the vile of bitter gourd. I ain’t no political animal neither, but, pray tell, had not our labour drip-fed plantation profits to this country for hundreds of years before manumissions? Has not thousands of our young men fought in two world wars for this land? Were not we immigrants paying our taxes and making our ways as good citizens of this country?”
Also interesting were the dynamics between parents and children raised in different cultures. Having been raised in two very different cultures myself I could definitely relate. Evaristo has some funny examples, one of my favourites was how Barry chose to describe sushi:
“She rips open the plastic cover with her black talents and pops supposedly edible objects into her mouth. I lean over and examine the contents of her “lunch”: four raw slivers of salmon on top of a thumb-sized blob of rice, a few lettuce leaves, about twenty bean-things with tails that looked like human embryos, strands of grated carrot, birdseed, a few pickled slices of finger, and some slimy black leafy substance that looks like it should-a remained in the sea.”
I also liked the thoughts on how it is to raise a child as a minority in the west, how stressful it is for a parent to raise a minority child with self-esteem given that the mainstream society does little to help in that regard:
“I always made Maxine feel her opinions was important. I never slaughtered my daughter in an argument. I knew the rest if the world might do that to her, but not me, not her father.
This is when it hits me.
The world did do it to her.
It said, You, my dear, are not the star if our show.”
Surprisingly for me, I was actually able to feel a little empathy for the British who might have been overwhelmed with the sudden import of “foreignness” into their land:
“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. With the wisdom of hindsight, I now see they had lost their bearings.”
The use of language was wonderful throughout. There was definitely a postcolonialist acceptance of diverse language usage. Excellent book which I’d recommend to anyone.