Journale Prosa Voices Under Construction
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Voices Under Construction

Translation journal for Bernardine Evaristo’s Mr. Loverman

First: The Booker Prize and the backlist
I, Barrington Jedidiah Walker ...
Digression I: Irreverence and ventriloqiusm
... You: Carmel Walker, née Miller ...
... and the others
Digression II: Titles and covers
And Finally: A Personal Note

First: The Booker Prize and the backlist

The path to success was unusual for Bernardine Evaristo. She had already spent half her life writing and publishing poetry, plays and novels. She received good reviews and was a deeply committed Black feminist activist. And yet fame eluded her. Then came Girl, Woman, Other in autumn 2019 (Mädchen, Frau etc in German).1 She was the first Black woman ever to win the Booker Prize and appeared to be an overnight success. I was only halfway through the book when Tropen Verlag asked if I would like to translate it, but it was already the best book I had read in a while. That’s how my translation story with this remarkable author began. It’s a story that would soon gain new chapters. After all, she was no debut author experiencing overnight success. She already had a considerable body of work behind her and still publishes new works too.

I found myself in absolute paradise as a translator. There was so much more to discover once I had finished Girl, Woman, Other. And even before my translation Mädchen, Frau etc was published in January 2021, it was clear that the publisher would go on to work through the  backlist, starting with its immediate predecessor Mr Loverman, first published in 2013.

I read it in a state of shock and awe, won over by the first-person narrator central to the novel. Barrington Jedidiah Walker is 74 years old and regards himself as a “Caribbean gentleman”. He belongs to the Windrush generation, having emigrated to the United Kingdom from Antigua in the early 1960s. His hard work and effort throughout his life have left him financially well-off with a successful property portfolio. Married with two grown-up daughters, he is secretly gay and has been with his lover Morris since they were teenagers. Morris left Antigua before Barry, but his personal and professional trajectory in the United Kingdom has been rather less successful.

Bernardine Evaristo: Mr. Loverman. translated into German be Tanja Handels. Berlin, Tropen Verlag, 2023.

As we will see, Barry is a dazzling literary voice. The voice of his wife Carmel, Carmelita Miller, accompanies him in counterpoint. Once the most beautiful and desired girl in St. John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, we encounter her at the beginning of the novel as a disillusioned wife in her early sixties, plagued not just by minor ailments, but also by her husband who she believes is cheating on her with other women. 

Both voices had to be constructed and interwoven to make the book work in German – but before I could get really stuck in, a new book by Evaristo came along. The publication of her memoir Manifesto: On Never Giving Up was announced for autumn 2021, meaning that translating this work became the priority for Evaristo’s German publisher. Barry and Carmel had to wait until Manifesto: Warum ich niemals aufgebe was published in January 2022 before I could fully dedicate myself to the backlist.

The book ends with an actual Evaristo Manifesto. You might think that Evaristo simply experienced an extraordinary stroke of luck, but in the fifth chapter she details how all her previous books came into being, not just in terms of the writing and publication process, but also what sparked the idea behind each one. That’s how I learned the back story to Mr Loverman. Bernardine had reached a dead end while working on another book project. She was stuck. Back then she was a fiction mentor on a scheme run by the Arvon Foundation for aspiring writers. And for the first time in years, she took part in a workshop herself which was led by the theatre mentor Rebecca Lenkiewicz. One of the writing exercises involved an array of passport photos spread out on a table. The participants each had to pick one and imagine the person in the photograph undressing in front of a full-length mirror, and channel the character’s voice in describing what they saw. As Bernardine writes: “My chosen photograph was of an elderly Caribbean-looking man wearing a trilby. The moment I began the exercise, Barrington […] started to talk to me and wouldn’t stay quiet.”2 It’s a pretty accurate description of her main character. And if you’re familiar with the book, it’s typical Barry to just show up in his author’s head like that. But it’s funny that such a pragmatic and grounded person like Bernardine Evaristo should be the one to be won over by his charms.

Barrington Jedidiah Walker, Esq. instantly took on a life of his own. He talked the ears off his author and his translator-to-be (and indeed talks his own head off throughout the novel). Bold, brazen and blunt, he was equally capable of winning us over. His charm was impossible to resist, whether we liked it or not. There’s no way he could have been anything other than a first-person narrator. Right from the start, there was no doubt that his voice would be crucial to the success or failure of the entire book. And so I began by constructing a German voice for Barrington.

I, Barrington Jedidiah Walker ...

The foundations of this voice are Barry’s linguistic mixture of Caribbean patois, standard English, Shakespeare quotations, and what I call his Barryisms inspired by his words somewhere in the book: I ain’t no homosexual, I am a ... Barrysexual.3

This phrase is a good example to start with. It was the easiest challenge from a translation point of view as such phrases are verbal idiosyncrasies that Barry makes up for himself. He has a playful attitude towards language not least thanks to his excessive love of Shakespeare.4 He adds his own twist to clichés and modal particles – furthermore and more furtherly, and so forthly – and invents words based on other ones. Stoke Newington, the area of London where he and his family have lived for decades has not only been gentrified, but also dykeified and subjected to Rastafication. Barry has a thirst for education and is bothered by the fact that he was never able to go to university. Instead, he takes evening classes and studies not only sociology, psychology and archaeology, but also oloyology and artology. As a translator, I had a lot of freedom here. And so forthly became dermehren gleich in German, and furthermore and more furtherly became zudem und dem hinzu. Stoke Newington was lesbifiziert and rastafiziert, and Barry’s studies ranged from Blabalogie to Kunstologie. And barrysexual in German was quite simply barrysexuell

So far so good. But the demands of Caribbean patois were rather more complex.5 This variety of English is spoken by all the characters in the book who were born on Antigua. Alongside Barry, we also have his lover Morris and his wife Carmel, the second great voice of the book. Here I faced a fundamental question when it came to the German translation. How should I mark this linguistic diversity? There’s no Caribbean German, just as there’s no historically rooted Black German for translators to use as an equivalent to Black American English. In order to mark these dialects in translation, the only option was to create a kind of ersatz language in German.

I was neither the first nor the last to have faced this challenge and I read what others had written on the subject in a state of suspense and relief.6 Over and over again, I realised that there is no one-size-fits-all solution; it’s just impossible. As with all literary translation, context matters. It all depends on the challenges of the book in question and the needs of its characters and their lived experiences in that particular literary universe. The fact that I needed to mark this linguistic variety was beyond doubt, but it was up to me to answer the question of how, exactly – and how far should I go?

All the characters that speak patois in the book do so in a reduced form. They speak standard English with light variations that are noticeable to the English-speaking reader but rarely need looking up or require any prior knowledge to be understood. It’s a type of pan-Caribbean patois which cannot be exclusively attributed to the island of Antigua – and Evaristo has herself critically engaged with it.7 She ultimately made this choice for the sake of readability for her English-speaking audience. Knowing this made my decision easier too. In order to create the same impression for a German-speaking readership – equivalent effect is key here – I opted for a rather light inflection which only went a little beyond the spoken vernacular. Contractions and elisions can quickly grate in German so I took a measured yet consistent approach. Verbs in the present tense lost their final -e while verbs (including substantives derived from them) which usually end in -ehen instead ended in -ehn. “Gehen”, “sehen”, “bestehen” became “gehn”, “sehn”, “bestehn”, and so on. Indefinite articles like “eine” or “einen” were generally reduced to “ne” and “nen,”8 or even left out completely. On top of that there’s a rhythmic sentence structure with inversions and transpositions which don’t always match the usual German idiom. And a subject is not absolutely required in every sentence. This allowed me to push the limits of the German language sparingly without being overpowering or losing that sense of authenticity.9 Not every deviation required an exact match in German. Rather, the aim was to piece together all these different elements to create a convincing overall sound. It’s often enough to gesture towards it, as on the stage whereby a physical characteristic does not need to be constantly played out, but rather the audience just needs to be reminded of it at certain intervals.

But we also encounter a strong “real” patois represented phonetically. Such moments occur at times of intense emotion (love, fear or fury) when Barry falls back completely into the language of his Antiguan childhood and youth: Man haf fu do what man haf fu do, Wha rong wit yuh and so on. These sentences and phrases are left as they are in the German edition as soundbites of the original, as markers of authenticity which bow to the Caribbean language, just as they do in English.

The third cornerstone in my reconstruction of Barry’s voice is what he calls the Queen’s English. German lends itself much more easily to this higher register which is strongly inflected by many extensive Shakespeare quotations10 and academic terms which Barry appropriates just as seamlessly as any other idiom. In the German translation, such moments could even be taken a little further, compensating for those pages where the German ersatz patois was less distinct.

How does that sound? You can read a sample here:

Digression I: Irreverence and ventriloqiusm

While constructing his voice, I often asked myself how Barrington Jedidiah Walker would be received by the German reader ten years after he was first published in the United Kingdom (the story takes place in 2010). Much has changed since then. Many heated debates have taken place in the public sphere which were not so prominent when the book was first published. Does a literary character like Barry still fit with the times? He is rather opinionated and extremely blunt when it comes to expressing his views. He gets into skirmishes, likes to provoke and let rip, and wastes no energy on political correctness. He has an arrogant, misogynistic and even – despite being gay himself – somewhat homophobic manner. He is completely uninhibited in what he says and yet all this still comes with plenty of endearing humour and irony.  At the same time, he encounters his fellow human beings – especially women and queer people – with great openness and empathy. He is always ready to help others and throughout his seventy-four years on earth has experienced racism, homophobia and malice first-hand in ways that extend to physical violence. Barry epitomises ambivalence – both appealing and unpleasant, he is disarming, irreverent, unbelievably witty and mean, and that’s what makes him immensely endearing. And to have been invented and written by a Black feminist activist who lived an openly queer life for a decade as a young woman – it’s a web of contradictions. In the translation I made the clear decision to go with all Barry’s moments of irreverence just like in the original – ultimately it was hardly a decision to be made as it was beyond question. Anything else would destroy his voice and the entire book too.

Early on in my translation process I stumbled upon Bernardine Evaristo's Thesis that she wrote at Goldsmiths, University of London for her PhD in creative writing. This chance encounter was both wonderful and completely unexpected. The dissertation is titled Mr Loverman and the Men in Black British Fiction and consists partly of the novel itself – it is a PhD in creative writing after all – as well as a literary critique of the representation of masculinity which includes an analysis of Evaristo’s own novel alongside other major works, most notably The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon11 and Escape to an Autumn Pavement by Andrew Salkey.12 It’s absolutely fascinating. And Evaristo clearly states her intended vision for Barry:

My narrator is intended to be charismatic, intelligent, flamboyant, opinionated and audacious. But what also emerged in the creative process is a disjunction between the charm of the narrative voice and what is unwittingly revealed about its speaker, which is a rather more cantankerous and self-deceiving individual who is lacking enough self-awareness to be classified as an unreliable narrator. [...] Barrington is not portrayed as a villain either, because he is not. He is a complicated individual living with the consequences of his decisions. In earlier drafts of the novel his portrayal erred on the side of heartlessness, something I addressed through revision. As an elderly, black, gay Caribbean man who is perhaps making the first such outing in the chronicles of British fiction, I want him to be an attractive personality – flawed, as all fictional characters need to be, but not to the point of alienating the reader. 13

She takes her cue from Stephen King and his autobiographical guide On Writing14 when it comes to all the inappropriate ideas that she has him utter: “I [...] decided to follow Stephen King’s dictum in On Writing to disregard offending the ‘Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle.’”15 One page earlier, she explains how she interprets the first-person narrative perspective as “literary ventriloquism”. In a certain way she “channelled” this first-person narrator when writing, a process which corresponds to the story of how Barry came into being; no sooner had she discovered him, he took on a life of his own and assumed the helm despite at first glance having little in common with her inside or out. It is palpable to the reader that this was a lot of fun for Bernardine. And it all enriches Barry as a character, making his ambivalent yet disarming charm unbelievably vivid. That’s how the creative process worked, that’s how empathy, ingenuity, theatricality,16 and literary diversity work. It's all the more fascinating to me because I see translation as a form of literary ventriloquism too.

And yet I still wonder – and I’ll ask next time I get the chance – whether Bernardine Evaristo would still write Barrington Jedidiah Walker with the same lack of inhibition and irreverence today, a decade on. I feel that the answer would likely be yes. You only need to take a look at the author statement on her website which can be read as another short Evaristo manifesto: “Writing is an adventure, a journey into the unknown, and I enjoy liberating myself from the shackles of convention.”

... You: Carmel Walker, née Miller ...

No matter how behind the times Barrington might appear to some readers today, he is immensely charming if you let him in. And, as a highly independent and dominant literary character, he didn’t hold back in charming his author either. As a feminist, Bernardine Evaristo was so captivated by her first-person narrator that she completely overlooked how much she had neglected her second character who provides the female perspective on the Walkers’ dysfunctional marriage which has always been based on a lie. She writes candidly in her Manifesto that it was the editors at Hamish Hamilton who first pointed out that Carmel, the wife, had been left out.17 The book that had been supposed to be complete then underwent another round of writing. She interspersed the eleven chapters by Barrington with six more from Carmel’s perspective whose style, form and tone provide stark contrast – as can be seen with their very different titles in the table of contents.

Whereas Barry introduces us to the various aspects of his life through Art, Carmel’s chapters are Songs (it took quite a bit of experimentation to find nouns for each chapter title that didn’t sound as clunky and grandiose as they might usually do in German). They set the tone – tender, mellow, lyrical, even melancholy, and increasingly marked by the disillusion that sets into their failed loveless marriage – and also shape the form of the book. Bernardine Evaristo’s early novels are all written in verse18and she went on to merge her practices as a playwright and a poet to create a unique form that she calls fusion fiction. It is visible in the fluid and poetic form of her Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other which is written almost entirely without punctuation (aside from commas). Each chapter contains just one full stop (or a question mark) at the end, meaning that it can be read as one long sentence. It is up to the individual reader to weave their own levels of meaning between these “verses” (as I called them during the translation process). The form carries the reader through the text, creating a completely different rhythm and tempo compared to traditional prose. We first encounter this fusion fiction in Mr Loverman in the Carmel chapters in a slightly more extreme way as each of Carmel’s chapters end without a full stop – all her chapters can be read as one very long sentence.19 Notwithstanding many flashbacks, Barry’s story is essentially limited to the year 2010. Carmel’s story, meanwhile, is told in ten-year intervals stretching from her wedding in 1960 when she was still on Antigua to her emancipation in the watershed year of 2010. We travel alongside her throughout the decades and encounter her just as she was at each stage of life. Another formal element that creates a sense of immediacy is the fact that the Carmel chapters are written in a second-person narrative “you” which is rarely used in novels. Carmel’s perspective is therefore accompanied by the flicker of an omniscient narrator that speaks both to and for her. The literary scholar in me immediately wanted to work out who or what it could be. Carmel is depicted as being very religious, so could this be a God-like voice that speaks with her and about her and sometimes knows her better than she does herself? Or is it Carmel’s inner dialogue talking to and about herself? Each reader will have to come to their own conclusions.20

Carmel certainly counts as one of the pan-Caribbean characters from a linguistic point of view. She speaks the same gentle standard English inflected with patois as her husband although without his complete return to the language of his childhood and youth at times of intense emotion. And without the Shakespeare quotations that would otherwise create a higher register. Words tend to fall apart for Carmel during emotionally charged moments, and this is represented on the page, making her chapters even more experimental in form.

My strategy for Carmel did not deviate hugely from how I translated Barry. I used the same basic signals – albeit slightly more measured – and accentuated the language at different points. It couldn’t be forced, you had to submit entirely to the tone and rhythm, plumb the depths of emotion, and construct sentences and verses that would work just as well in German. The second-person narrative gives the text a soaring, floating sensation – it’s no surprise that we encounter Carmel in her first chapter as a newlywed, in love aged sixteen, swinging back and forth in her parent’s garden on Antigua – there’s a more closed and self-contained undertone compared to Barry’s exuberance and irreverence, and she seems less dazzling and disarming at first glance. Carmel’s charms grow on us – as though by design, her perspective comes second. In the first chapter, we only see her through Barry’s eyes, in words that reflect Barry’s world in which she is “a bible-bashing husband-hater.”21 Only later, in ‘The Song of Sweetness’ do we learn about the gentle person she once was and still is beneath all the layers of hardship and disappointment that have built up throughout her life. Our understanding of Barry is also augmented through her perspective. The text is tightly woven on a micro level. Often a Barry chapter ends with a word or a situation that the following Carmel chapter follows on from in slight variation, and vice versa. Chapter 2 ends with Barry alone at breakfast the morning after their wedding in 1960, and chapter 3 starts with Barry and Morris sitting at the breakfast table in 2010. Chapter 10 (Barry) ends: Then I collapse on to the hallway carpet and lose myself, and chapter 11 (Carmel) starts: you started losing your old self and gaining a new one [...]. Evaristo weaves the two voices in this way to create an experimental whole that works organically and holds fast at all times. As a translator, I had to take a forensic approach, detecting where the fugue comes together so that I could weld and stitch the text together seamlessly. The German reader can still uncover these moments if they want but only if they know where to look.

... and the others

Interwoven among these two voices are several secondary voices that expand and adorn the text as a whole. We have the characters of the next two generations, for example, who all speak standard English. Barry and Carmel have two daughters, Donna and Maxine, both born and brought up in England. They see themselves as British and are conscious of their Antiguan heritage to varying degrees. And then we have Donna’s teenage son Daniel. All three are second22 and third generation immigrants, they have gone through the British education system and have gone or plan to go to university. Thanks to Barry’s efforts, they are free to try their hand at any career they want without having to worry about money – as evident in the character of Maxine who is her father’s favourite and a talented artist, and yet lives a life of small disappointments. Their voices reflect their upper middle classness. None of them speak the patois of their parents’ generation, although Maxine and Donna occasionally quote their father’s barryisms. Instead, their voices are inflected by the particular language of their surroundings. Donna is a social work trainer with a voice for teaching and lecturing that blends into her private life. Maxine is in the fashion industry and is hip and effusive, using words like obv and whatevs. And Daniel is a highly intelligent private schoolboy with ambitions to become the first Black prime minister of the United Kingdom. He is so far removed from his grandfather’s heritage that when he tries to emulate his patois, he doesn’t draw on the pan-Caribbean idiom of Barry’s fictional universe, but instead draws on the Jamaican that he is more familiar with through pop culture:

“‘Gimme one glass of Wild Turkey ’cos I is a rude bwoy,’ he says, imitating what he thinks is my accent but sounding Jamaican. He picks up the bottle and reads the label, declaring, ‘An’ me wan’ it on de rocks, Grampops.”

„Gib mir n Glas Wild Turkey, bin schließlich n krasser rude bwoy“, sagt er im Glauben, meinen Akzent nachzuahmen, obwohl er wie n Jamaikaner klingt. Er greift sich die Flasche, studiert das Etikett und verkündet: „Und ich nehm ihn on de rocks, Grampops.“

Another nice secondary character is the English boyfriend whom the young Donna brings home in the early eighties: he’s a blond white wannabe Rastafarian who embodies every form of cultural appropriation. He greets Barry at their first official meeting with “Greetings and salutations, Mr. Walker” and speaks a contrived and overdone Jamaican English. All in all, he’s completely unbearable. His exaggerated characterisation goes on for half a page. He is clearly absurd and yet – despite all her irony – Evaristo still writes him with love and respect,23 just as she does with the most minor of characters. They all come to life with just a handful of perceptive brushstrokes. I found this strategy unbelievably brilliant in Girl, Woman, Other, and its one which runs throughout her writing.

Alongside the main voices which structure the book, there are plenty of smaller voices which play a supporting role, brief social portraits24 which at times also attempt to caricature the patois spoken by Barry, Carmel and the other Antiguan characters.

Digression II: Titles and covers

The commission to translate Mr Loverman came in just as the publisher and I were editing the German translation of Girl, Woman, Other. I had already got hold of copies of Bernardine Evaristo’s entire backlist. Nearly all of them came in the new paperback edition that the English publishing house adopted after the Booker Prize so that they all align with the cover design of Girl, Woman, Other. Each one features a graphic abstract image in the same style and format and uses the same font.

There are just two exceptions: Lara, Bernardine’s first novel in verse, which features her very own parents’ wedding photo...

...and Mr Loverman, the immediate predecessor to the one that won the Booker Prize. This cover also features a photograph. It depicts a presumably Caribbean gentleman in a three-piece suit and a hat who is a pretty exact match for the passport photo that Evaristo describes as having inspired Barry.25 At first I didn’t think much of it – it was simply the old edition and I found it nice and affectionately done. But when I saw the new cover which Tropen Verlag would also use for the German edition and which only depicts an abstract hat, I realised just how much I had been influenced by the original photograph. In my imagination, Barry is the unknown man on the old cover that I looked at continually throughout the reading and translation process – the feeling is almost akin to Bernardine’s first ever encounter with the Barry in the passport photo.

Once again, I reflected on the power of book covers and titles to set up particular expectations and shape the reading experience. I like the abstract cover and feel that it is definitely a superior solution because it leaves a lot more space for the reader to use their own imagination. But after having spent so much time together, I’m still rather attached to “my” clearly outlined Mr Loverman who lent his face to the Barry I imagined.

Just as powerful as the cover image is the book title itself – especially when it is not as distinct as it is here. Mr Loverman obviously stayed the same in translation with the small addition of a full stop to align it with the conventions of the German language. It’s no accident that the title immediately evokes this song. It plays a role in the book and contradicts the original cover image with a hint of irony. This is lost – to my mind at least – with the new abstract version.  Mr Loverman doesn’t immediately bring to mind a distinguished gentleman with a pocket watch, but rather Shabba Ranks and his masculine swagger – a theme which is also critiqued in the novel.

Finding a title that works in translation is not always so clear cut. The German title of Girl, Woman, Other (Mädchen, Frau etc) is a good example. It provoked some criticism and even accusations of ignorance when it comes to the political meanings of other. The German title emerged during the publication process precisely because we were unable to preserve the diverse and multiple layers of meaning that resonate from this word in English due to the Othering of People of Colour. All the possible synonyms of “other” in German like “anders”, “andere”, “divers” or “fremd” were too fixed in meaning and lost the multiplicity important to Evaristo – and to us. The title needed to convey the rich epic panorama of the book which stretches over a hundred years back in time and which includes many secondary characters in addition to the twelve main characters. It is a matrix of countless, ever-changing identities based on where you feel you belong and where you are assumed to belong in terms of race, class, gender and age. Etc was not intended as a value judgement or to downplay all this. It was supposed to open up all kinds of new spaces, not in the sense of “and so on”, but rather in the sense of “and so much more”. The choice of title was explained to the author, agent and original publisher in exactly these terms and everyone was on board.

In retrospect, it might have been better to have kept the original title, as has long been the practice with films. Sometimes they come with a German subtitle but often they are just left as they are, and this is increasingly becoming the norm for books too.26 Discussing this phenomenon is far beyond the remit of this journal but I find it hard not to. It’s tricky for marketing reasons to have matching covers and titles. You can hardly tell the German and English versions apart. And does it not somehow devalue the German edition if it needs the English title be considered legitimate or cool? There’s so much more to be said on the subject.

And Finally: A Personal Note

I hope this journal has given you an insight into my mind as a translator. I’d like to end with a couple of personal anecdotes.

© privat

The greatest part of being a translator is getting to meet “my” authors. This usually happens after the first book during a tour through the German-speaking world. But the pandemic began just after I embarked on my first Evaristo translation making all travel impossible. The book launch of Mädchen, Frau etc in February 2021 took place virtually: the moderator Jackie Thomae, the actor Constanze Becker27 and the jazz singer Joy Denalane sat on stage in Berlin without an audience at Dussmann bookshop and Bernardine joined via video from London while I sat in front of my computer in Munich. And when Manifesto was published, no live events were possible in the first half of 2022 either.

But last September, Bernardine Evaristo was able to accept an invitation to the international literature festival berlin and we finally got to meet in person after her event28 and the next evening we met again at a small dinner organised by Tropen Verlag. Getting to meet her, to speak to her, discuss her books, hear the rhythm of her voice in real life – all this filtered through to my translation and made it easier for me to “channel” her voice as an author, just as she channelled her first-person narrator Barrington. Evaristo’s own voice was another sound that I had to reconstruct in German. I can’t wait for the events in relation to the German translation of Mr. Loverman: a tour in March 2023 is already planned.

There’s one voice and character that I have neglected in this journal. Although we don’t experience it first-hand, this voice is what also turns the novel into a wonderful and moving account of true life-long love. As Bernardine Evaristo wrote about Morris in her much-cited dissertation:

[...] if there is an Everyman in its pages then it is Morris. Morris is fair minded, down to earth and speaks good sense. He is braver than his lover, and kinder. He doesn’t share Barrington’s insecurities and anxieties but does retreat into himself when hurt. The power balance in their relationship might appear to be in Barrington’s favour as he is the larger, more dominant personality, but it is really Morris who exerts more control over his lover than vice versa, who deflates Barrington’s pomposity and ego, thereby anchoring him.29

I would even go so far as to say Morris anchors and grounds the entire book with his philanthropy, intelligence and warmth. And then there’s the relationship between the two, their Geplänkel, their bantering, behind which Barry often hides the depth of his emotions and in which Morris gives as good as he gets while also setting clear limits. There’s their physical and emotional closeness, the way they fight and reconcile. It’s all so beautifully real, so human, that despite all the difficulties and rough edges of the protagonists, reading their love story is an absolute joy. And just as Barry is about to reveal his decades-long secret, he utters one of the most beautiful literary confessions of love that I know. And so, for all his bluster, he deserves the last word:

I wanted to tell her about Morris.

I wanted to sing his name out into the night.

His name is Morris. He is my Morris, and he always been my Morris. He’s a good-hearted man, a special man, a sexy man, a history-loving man, a loyal man, a man who appreciates good joke, a man of many moods, a drinking man and a man with whom I can be myself completely30

Reading sample Reading sample PDF

©Anja Kapunkt

Tanja Handels lives and works in Munich, where she translates mostly British, American, and other English-language literature into German, for example the work of Zadie Smith, Bernardine Evaristo, Kopano Matlwa, William Finnegan, Charlotte McConaghy and Nicole Flattery. She also teaches prospective literary traslators at various universities and is the chair of the Munich Translators' Forum. In 2019 she was awarded the Heinrich-Maria Ledig Rowohlt Prize.

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