I’m hesitant to call this book a “slice of life” novel, because it’s not. But the book is formatted in an episodic, here are slices of A life sort of way. This is the second book I won this month in LibraryThing’s Early Review program: Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo.
I’ll admit: I did not like this book at first blush. I finished the book and couldn’t figure out why a quick, engaging, thought-provoking novel left me cold. When I finally figured it out, I realized I did like the book, just not in the way I wanted to, but rather in a better way (which is why it made me think).
The main character, Barry, is the villain of the story. Let me be clear: he is not A villain. Rather he’s the villain of the story. He married a woman he did not love to cover up his gay affair, he took her away from her home by moving to a different country, he had two kids with her that he by turns hyper-criticized/spoiled rotten, he didn’t leave his wife when the children were grown, he wasn’t careful about hiding his affair from his kids (so they grew up in a house of a lot of secrets), and he treated his lover, Morris, abominably for many years. I sympathize with Barry – he had a lot of difficult decisions to make – but he is absolutely the villain of the story. He’s created a broken house around himself all because it was more comfortable. He is selfish and sometimes cruel.
That all being said, the writing was excellent. Dialectal differences between characters, accents portrayed in spelling, even the different styles of speaking from the two narrators, were all extremely well executed. The character development, while Barry changes little (in true villain form), was well done for all the others, and it was an incredibly interesting experience to experience the story from the villain’s point of view. (To be fair, some people may call Barry an anti-hero, but I don’t think he fits that mold as well.) The past was told mainly in the wife’s voice and I really appreciated getting to see her points of view. They were a necessary balance to Barry’s very selfish, fault-casting personality.
There are also some very interesting discussions in the books about feminism, religion, race, and the immigrant experience. Barry, Morris, and their wives were born, educated, and raised in Antigua, then moved to England. This entire book is about discovering how to live the life YOU want, and these discussions are secondary to Barry’s secret sexuality, but they are VERY much a part of what both of the families have to deal with in a culture not their own and not particularly welcoming.
Barry is flawed and ANNOYING. He’s lied to everyone (including himself, convincing himself that it’s not an affair if he’s not sleeping with other women) his entire life. He has a lot of internalized/generational sexism and homophobia. He’s a pretty terrible parent. He’s so imperfect. But this story wasn’t ever meant to be about perfection or redemption, so far as I can tell. It was about a series of lives long lived in the shadows and how each person needed to find their way out. I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, but I did very much enjoy it myself.
B+ (excellent writing in style and execution, interesting narrator choices; main character difficult to appreciate/relate to)
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