This is a story about Barry, an Antiguan man in his eighties living in Stoke Newington in London. His wife, Carmel, suspects that he’s having an affair, but what she doesn’t realise is that for sixty years, he has been in a relationship with his lifelong best friend, Morris. It’s a look at prejudice, sexuality, immigration, race and family.
I loved how much the protagonist is shown as growing and changing and learning, even at this late stage in his life. He’s pretty self important, pretty convinced of his own rightness a lot of the time, but through the book he is forced to reexamine himself, his prejudices and the way he has treated his wife and daughters. He might be gay, but he’s kind of homophobic and pretty sexist a lot of the time, but he does realise his flaws as the novel goes on.
I also loved the nuance that Evaristo gave to the story. Most of it is narrated from Barry’s point of view, but every now and then a chapter from his wife’s point of view is inserted and you see all of the ways that he is kind of a shitty person, and realise that the way he sees her is so, so inaccurate and belittling. These are characters who could easily become stereotypes, but Evaristo never allows herself to slip into that – even when the characters pigeonhole one another into stereotypes, she forces them and the reader to reconsider those lazy, inaccurate categorisations. Barry thinks Carmel is a total harpy, while she thinks that he is a serial womaniser – neither turns out to be true.
The narrative also refuses to judge these characters for their flaws. Carmel holds some pretty awful homophobic opinions, and while other characters do voice their disagreement with her, she is not painted as evil for this. She is shown to be a result of the environment she was brought up in and the times she has lived through, as well as easily influenced by the faith she has turned to while her husband has neglected her for so many years.
This is a capital-I Important Book, looking at a group in society which is often ignored, but it is also charming, funny and warm-hearted.