Seventy-four years old, Antiguan born and bred, flamboyant Hackney personality, Barry is known for his dapper taste and fondness for retro suits.
He is a husband, a father and a grandfather.
And for the past sixty years he has been in a secret relationship with his childhood friend and soulmate, Morris.
The obvious theme of this novel is the prejudice surrounding gay relationships, focusing particularly on the British Caribbean community. Barry’s wife, Carmel, has long suspected that Barry has been having an affair. He isn’t interested in sex with her and has suggested on occasion that they have their own bedrooms now that the kids have left. What she has no clue about is that Morris, Barry’s best friend, is actually his lover and has been since before she married Barry. at the age of sixteen.
Barry is a lovable rogue, a character who has a lot of flaws but who wins you over nevertheless. For years he’s been living a double life, feeling guilty for misleading Carmel but there are enough hints that she could have walked away earlier to stop the reader thinking the worst of him. Morris’s own wife left him and returned to Antigua after catching him in bed with Barry but kept her silence. Since then, Morris has gently pressured Barry to come clean, only Barry is afraid of losing his family, not only Carmel but his two adult daughters and his grandson.
Things come to a head when Carmel’s ninety odd year old father falls ill and isn’t expected to last long. She leaves immediately for Antigua and drops an ultimatum as she goes: things will have to change when she gets back. Barry takes this as a sign and as soon as she’s on the plane he makes his own decision. Finally he will tell Carmel the truth and move in with Morris.
I flew through this novel in a day. Barry is a delight despite his obvious selfishness and sometimes unreliable narration. He’s not a stereotype but instead is a man who has spent sixty years sneaking around when he’d rather not have, a man with a certain amount of wealth, who worked his way up in the Ford factory in Dagenham and who cared for his daughters when Carmel suffered post-natal depression. For all his bad points there’s an equalling positive side and he was a refreshing character to spend time with. His reluctance to come out is a lot more to do with his own prejudices than a real fear of what people will think, and he is surprised to find support from corners he’d not expected.
This book is for you if you want a feel good story with complexity. It isn’t perfect, and I found Barry’s daughters quite irritating, but it’s worth the read for Barry and Morris alone.