Excellent book, absolutely excellent. Bernardine Evaristo is one of the most underrated writers writing today. She takes what could be a very one sided and predictable story and tell it more as fable than human drama, but she doesn’t, not one whit. Everything she writes is real and complex and does justice to its subject.
This is the story of Barry, Barrington Walker of Hackney, previously Antigua, seventy-something, suave, sophisticated and secretly gay. This is the story of him preparing to come out, to end his fifty-year marriage and possibly lose his standing in his community. The book is set in present day but full of remembrances of his life-long love affair with Morris, his best friend, of all the moments where the path turned and choices were made or not made.
The best thing about this book is its treatment of Barry’s wife, Carmel, who is as much the centre of this book as he is. Your sympathy is so obviously going to go to Barry, to have to hide his love and live a secret life because of homophobia, the threat of ostracism, imprisonment or even violence. But Evaristo doesn’t let us off that easy and she doesn’t write lazy books, and we are given the very uneasy insight into what it has done to Carmel to live for her whole adult life without love, without sexual desire, without honesty, and how that has warped her personality and blighted her life. Barry, who is outwardly far more sympathetic than his bitter, bigoted, Bible-bashing wife, has in fact got a lot more than her in many ways – he has at least loved and been loved in return. And he has used up her life in his self-serving, if necessary, lie.
In a lot of ways this book is about cowardice and bravery, of how many small and unknown ways people can be brave, how many times they miss opportunities to make themselves or others happy out of fear. It is about how we fight for who we are and what we want, and win and lose many myriad battles. It is about a life, a combination of achievements and regrets. In the end, it’s a story about love.
Read this book, you’ll love Barry and you’ll love it.