Love Both Ways is an exploration of Black masculinity and sexuality through the lives of two fathers who meet and fall in love with one another.
David Bankole, a Nigerian-Jamaican man from a prominent family is wealthy, successful and well respected among his peers. However, the discovery of his wife’s adultery leads him to question the life he’s been living. Italian art dealer, Michael De Farenzino is a married father of four. On his 50th birthday, he realises that despite being in a loving marriage to a woman he longs to explore his long buried desire towards men.
When the two men meet by chance, enchanted by their similarities and respective journeys of self discovery, they begin an intense love affair to the shock of their close friends and family. Despite their differences in age, race and culture the two strive to overcome the prejudices and bigotry of those who refuse to understand or support their relationship.
From the beginning I had high expectations for this novel. I thought the storyline was very promising and would be engaging as well as challenging given the subject matter. However, I felt let down by the execution and did not feel as though the novel fully delivered. And it was really lengthy and could have done with some judicious editing as some parts of the novel were wholly irrelevant or just repetitive.
It was clear that this is a subject very close to the author’s heart, as he goes to lengths to position arguments against homophobia, racism and the stereotypes of male masculinity and sexuality – particularly Black masculinity and sexuality throughout the narrative.
However, I felt that while trying to subvert stereotypes of masculinity in order to demonstrate that homosexuality does not emasculate a man, he also at the same time reinforces them by presenting this idealised masculinity, particularly in the characterisation of David. For example, in a scene between David and his soon-to-be ex wife Veronika, he dominates her sexually, and then later uses the encounter essentially to prove his masculinity, and shaming her in the process.
And in several instances, the male characters, David and Michael, in particular, respond hyper-aggressively to situations which did not merit the level of violence or aggression, whether physical or verbal. It seemed to me, that there was an element of wish fulfillment in dealing with bigotry through the author’s ideal of masculinity, and for matter, femininity which felt rather contrived. And unfortunately, this and at times some not so good writing, rather spoilt my enjoyment of what is actually a decent story.
That being said Love Both Ways does give one pause for thought on what it must be like to be in a same sex relationship when your cultural background or your past relationship history is against it. I thought the scenes with David, Michael and their respective families were really powerful, as it was clear they each loved their families above anything else and desperately wanted their love, support and ultimately their acceptance.
Following the two families to that place of acceptance was the best part of the novel and one would hope that for real life individuals in a similar situation, this story would not only provide strength and encouragement, but also give a voice to their experiences that would not go unheard.