It’s taken me a few weeks to gather my thoughts about Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning novel. Spanning generations, characters, histories and continents, Girl, Woman, Other follows the interconnected stories of mostly black, mostly British mostly women as they navigate their lives and learn how to accept themselves in different ways.
Some characters are firecrackers – like the lesbian playwright Amma whose politics and lifestyle starts off the collection with a bang. Her daughter, Yazz, is a woke university student trying to show her friends – and others – that it is her time to be heard. Amma’s friend, Dominique, seems like she has it all but her story holds the disturbing realities of a manipulative and abusive relationship.
Other characters are slow burners, or love-to-haters. I’m thinking of Amma’s friend Shirley who at middle age is never really satisfied (and also a bit homophobic), or Carole – the go-getter who tries to forget her Peckham past at university. Every character surprised me in some way, and some even made me gasp out loud.
To depict twelve people, all with such vibrant voices and unique inner lives, all bursting off the page in a different way, is truly an amazing feat. I am so impressed with Evaristo’s fluid and often poetic writing style that allows her to pull this off with each and every character she inhabits.
I also really enjoyed the punctuation of each story that meant there were no full stops until the end of each story. It gives the stories a dynamic and alive quality that makes it seem like all the stories were and are happening now – and really allows the reader to get into the fragmented thoughts and priorities of each character.
Reading Girl, Woman, Other was an eye-opening experience – not just in the stories of immigration and outright racism faced by some of the characters, but also in the microaggressions and moments that made me flinch encountered in each and every story. Reading about black, queer and female communities in a way I never have before, the stories feel important and necessary – somehow inherently political but also relevant in a timeless way.
As Micha Frazer-Carroll writes in The Guardian: “For many readers, it’s not a familiar world – this is a Britain less often depicted in fiction. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not a world that is possible, and worth celebrating.”
It might be a Britain less often depicted in fiction – but we can change that, and should. It starts by reading and supporting important books like Girl, Woman, Other.