#GeriBookClub’s fifth meeting: Mr Loverman, by Bernadine Evaristo
The intrepid #GeriBookClub met online again on Tuesday 11th May, to discuss ‘Mr Loverman’, written in 2013 by Bernadine Evaristo, who won the 2020 Booker Prize for her 2019 novel, ‘Girl, woman, other’. The story introduces us to Barry, an Antiguan man in his late seventies, who has decided that the time has come make some decisions around his longstanding marriage to his wife, Carmel, and his equally longstanding, hidden relationship with his lover, Morris. We were delighted to see both old and new friends joining in, including the author of our next meeting in July!
There were so many potential themes to consider in our discussion, but the experiences of LGBTQI older adults were a central one. I think we are all aware that attitudes have changed a lot over recent decades but also that many LGBT people of all ages still regularly encounter prejudice, both from the public but also within healthcare encounters. We wondered what it must be like to have needed to conceal a relationship over many decades….but also how upsetting it must be when even today, incorrect assumptions are made and spouses and partners are continuously mislabelled as friends. The NHS Rainbow badge project was highlighted as a brilliant initiative to show support to LBGTQI patients using healthcare, who may find it reassuring to see evidence that someone is an ally, at a vulnerable time. An interesting plot point was finding out that quite a few friends and family members had been aware of Barry and Morris’ relationship for many years, though both had assumed it a well-kept secret. It can be difficult for us as healthcare professionals to work out who knows what, and this is something we need to be cautious of when sharing patient information in healthcare settings.
We also wondered about the intersection of sexual identity with culture and faith, both of which were relevant to this book. Barry and Carmel emigrated to the UK as young adults, leaving family and friends behind with no in-person contact for many years. Both made decisions influenced in part by what was expected of them in terms of marriage and family life, sometimes with very difficult consequences. We were pleased to see that Carmel found some happiness by the end of the book, after difficult experiences with motherhood and post-partum depression, as a younger woman.
Sex forms a big part of this book – both good, and less good experiences, and in both straight and gay relationships. We considered whether geriatricians and people working with older adults pay enough attention to the sexual health and needs of people under our care, or whether this tends to be a blind spot we need to address. A useful resource highlighted was the Comprehensive Geriatric Sexual Assessment, designed by Olwen Williams. We also discussed that intimacy takes many forms, and that this can also be therapeutic. Initiatives that support this, mainly in hospice settings, were noted to be an important aspect of care, and gave some of us based in hospitals some food for thought. Society has a tendency to view older adults as asexual beings, but as healthcare workers we need to do better, and not shy away from addressing these concerns with patients.
Our next Book club will be on Tuesday July 13th, at 8pm, discussing ‘The Book About Getting Older’ by Lucy Pollock, who will be joining in with us to share her insights. We look forward to seeing lots of you there.