I’ve put off this book review of Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo for a couple of months because I just couldn’t find the right words to sum it up. As a white cis woman the book catches at my core and it’s also one that I can’t truly own either. Capturing the experiences of 12 mostly black British women, this collection of short stories intersects to reveal a little-seen perspective on modern life.
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
The book opens as queer playwright Amma prepares to attend the premiere of her new black, feminist play at the National Theatre. She reminisces about the path she’s taken – from her radical childhood through to her professional breakthrough. Alongside this she mulls on her family, friends and sexuality. Amma is fiercely independent and knows what she wants – a character trait that runs throughout Girl, Woman, Other. Even if it’s not always instantaneous, this strength of thought forms a vital seam – linking the women together. They all have aspirations – whether that means mentoring young people, developing successful careers or having stable family lives – and they’re determined to achieve these goals.
This doesn’t mean that there’s uniformity here though. The backgrounds, values and aspirations of the characters are very diverse. Some such as Carole desire to become part of the white Establishment, others like trans non-binary Megan/Morgan and Amma’s daughter Yazz seek to question it. I think my favourite character was Hattie, an elderly farmer who pushes through tragedy and depression to create the life she wants.
Men feature in Girl, Woman, Other too but refreshingly, they tend to play minor parts and are framed in terms of what they offer to the women.
I’m a fan of books that have interconnecting stories and Bernardine Evaristo incorporates this structure into Girl, Woman, Other brilliantly. Every chapter links to different characters, often in a way that smashes our assumptions and those of the women featured in the book. Secrets riddle the novel, looping lives together in hidden ways. You have to read the entire book to discover the most moving revelation.
Girl, Woman, Other doesn’t have a traditional plotline, more a series of loosely woven threads that form a vibrant and uplifting whole.
The prose is as distinctive as the characters. The stories are written in third-person, past tense with minimal punctuation so that the narrative style frequently resembles a form of poetry. For me, this unusual flowing yet disjointed style worked well as it broke down the barriers between my mind and the characters’ musings. Bernardine Evaristo somehow translates the jaggedness of natural thought into coherent words.This was an easy novel to read despite the weighty themes examined.
For a much-hyped book, Girl, Woman, Other surpassed my expections and I suspect that it will be in my top five reads by the end of 2020. It had everything I enjoy in a novel – new perspectives, hidden layers and believable voices. I would very much like to read other books by Bernardine Evaristo.
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- ISBN: 9780241984994
- Number of pages: 464
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