Review – Bernard and the Cloth Monkey by Judith Bryan

Book Review - Bernard and the Cloth Monkey
Book Review - Bernard and the Cloth Monkey

14/10/2023 Bernard and the Cloth Monkey placed on hold at elibrary. Borrowed on 16/10/2023. Audiobook – 6 hours 22 minutes. Started on 16/10/202, Picked it up 6 times and finished on 25/10/2023.

Spoilers galore throughout

Bernard and the Cloth Monkey is a quietly harrowing look at a slice of West Indian culture in London’s 1990’s. The story of a fractured family is deftly revealed in present day conversations and as each daughter reminisce on their past.  Just tragic.

Why is everyone surprised why Ann doesn’t visit.

Home Life

Frigid fucking bitch – good riddance

Daddy shouting to to Mummy as she leaves through the front door. 
This is after he tries to choke her out. She packs her bags and leaves the girls with Daddy

Abusive relationships are shit for everyone involved, who isn’t conducting or condoning the abuse.  For example, an abused wife will put up with a lot because of the belief that there’s no where else to go,  how will this affect the children and that culturally held thought of ” what will people say”. Children who are abused and receive no support from the non/less abusive parent (or any trusted adult) are splintered and must remake themselves. 

With no valid role models, how can a child do so and be whole, without numerous scars?

Nothing happened, it’s all in your head.

It's not that easy to dismiss thoughts that you don't want to hear.  You can intentionally not think about issues that disturb your equilibrium but it always remains in the back of your mind bubbling, occasionally revealing itself in quiet moments, violent actions, raised voices, disassociation.


We never get to meet Mummy and Daddy in the present day and that is a blessing as they are awful people.  Daddy has recently died and Mummy has gone on a cruise. What we know of these parents are disclosed by their children.

Mummy ignores Ann, side lining her because it’s easier than confronting her husband.  Because whenever she has, Mummy has been pushed down verbally and physically. It becomes easier to turn her eye and cast the blame (her pent up anger and distress) anywhere but where it truly belongs.

The girls are pitted against each other and the sibling relationship is damaged as they seek security and love outside of the family home.  This leads to misfortune, no devastation for both Ann and Beth

Ann would sit until she couldn’t stand the exclusion any more….
They let her go, they were glad to be rid of her
“Your sister is too much trouble, leave her to Daddy.  He knows how to handle her” said Mummy.
And certainly Ann seemed quieter under Daddy’s tutelage. Not so full of herself, not so much lip.  Ann seemed to grow more quieter and nervous each year. 
… Mummy clearly held her youngest child in contempt”

Beth’s recollection

Mummy and Beth had read Ann’s diary and Mummy cussed her out for making up lies. See “Nothing happened it’s all in your head.” Mummy is later relieved when Ann clarified that the incident she was referring to was about the doctor who had touched her private parts.  

The doctor who sexually abused Ann when he came for a home visit, show’s how easy it is for abuse victims to be further abused and still not be believed. The doctor could take advantage of Ann because the family identified her as a liar, disturbed.  And there’s this certain black mentality of believing everyone, anyone white in power over a fellow black person, especially a child. Mummy says why would a doctor look to you.

Where is the support for Ann?

Romantic Relationships

Victims don’t have an example of a good relationship, so more often than not will pick an abusive relationships. Steve from the view point of a romantically inclined teen is the bees knees. But as an adult viewing their relationship, the power imbalance is all wrong.  He wants to control her sexuality and does so by testing her boundaries ( having sex in public).  Even years later, this is how he sees the relationship, it isn’t one of mutual convenience rather his.

Beth doesn’t have an easy run of it either. Home life is a struggle with the tension in the air.  However she is fortunate in finding love. George is a loving boy who was beaten down by his mother, found love with Beth, showed Beth what love looked like.  But it wasn’t to last.  Pregnant, George sentenced, abortion, condemnation is Beth’s lot.  She seeks redemption through Mummy’s righteous indignation and Daddy’s feigned ignorance.

The power imbalance is seen in many areas including financial abuse. Daddy held the purse strings.  Whilst Mummy works as a nurse, she is very dependent on Daddy’s money to run the household..  I know that she saved for her sewing machine but where does her money go.  £60 a month housekeeping money is nothing even in the 1990’s.

Why This Book Should Be Read

For all that it is a heart breaking, it is also an important read on domestic violence, sexual abuse and  family relationships.  I listened to the audiobook and really had to pause in places because it was hard going, particularly when a stray thought or throw away sentence illustrated another terrible occurrence. The equal parts of rage and sadness leaves me with lots still to say about colourism, feminism, West Indian. However it will have to wait for another time.

A well deserved 4 stars.

My thanks to The Libraries Consortium ( elibrary) and their curated list for Black History Month 2023: Saluting Our Sisters, for bringing this book to my attention. .

4 Stars - Really Liked It
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Engrossed Reader

Reading whenever she can, often to the detriment of sleep. Enjoying most genres with preference for ebooks and audiobooks, mainly for convenience.

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