Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo
Barry is a flamboyant character, a snazzy dresser who is nevertheless full of prejudice himself. His story unfolds with pathos and humour, but I think I preferred the chapters narrated more poetically in the second person (a device the author uses in her 2019 Booker-prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other) from the perspective of his wife.
Although light in touch, the novel makes serious points about LGBT history, not only in showcasing a gay relationship within the Caribbean community, but with some reflections (perhaps a bit preachy for a novel, but I welcomed them) on tolerance of homosexuality in pre-colonial Africa (p258):
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Meanwhile, William Grene, her psychiatrist, is reviewing his own life as he approaches retirement, while trying to make sense of the patchy record of hers. In the crumbling hospital scheduled for closure, her case notes have been devoured by rodents, although fragments from her previous placement in Sligo remain. It’s not until later that he discovers how these contradict Roseanne’s own testimony, although the reader is aware from early on. Whose version will you trust, that of an elderly woman shut away for decades or a self-interested Catholic priest?
I know where my biases lie, but the Father Gaunt’s narrative is doubly disadvantaged by coming to us second hand. Whereas Roseanne’s memories, distorted or not, are poignantly vivid, and the injustice bites at the reader’s heart.
First published in 2008, Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture was shortlisted for the Booker and won the Costa award that year. Rereading it, I wasn’t as disappointed in the neat-and-cosy ending as I was the first time round. Perhaps because knowing what was coming gave me space to admire the setup. And I loved Roseanne’s tragic story of the twin wounds of misogyny and religiosity, which have blighted so many lives, not only in twentieth century Ireland.
I also enjoyed the politics, but was less captivated by the theme of unreliable memories, and as for the psychiatric setup, well! I’m not qualified to criticise the representation of Irish mental health care, but that won’t stop me saying that I didn’t believe in Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital or in the lonely psychiatrist, Dr Grene. He seems to perceive himself as solely responsible for assessing Roseanne for community care. William, let me take that weight from your shoulders!
So I could have done without depressed and depressing Dr Grene altogether. Roseanne’s tragic tale could stand on its own. But I nevertheless enjoyed rereading, although I much preferred the author’s more recent novel Days Without End.
Rain lashed the windscreen as Janice scoured dismal streets for a pharmacy open a bank holiday. Were she so inclined, she’d have lashed herself. She hoped her pounding head would be the worst legacy of last night’s foolishness. She couldn’t even claim he’d spiked her drink.
Her sober profession was no protection. Nor was her degree. In twenty minutes she’d regressed twenty-odd years to the age of ignorance. Of apathy. Of female disempowerment. As a green neon cross loomed from the murk, she scolded herself for scorning her birth mother. The only difference between them was the morning-after pill.