I’m writing this review still somewhat spellbound by the incredible Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I’m not alone as this tale (or tales) told by multiple interconnected narrators has not only been shortlisted for the Booker Prize but has also garnered seemingly universal praise from critics and the bookstagram community alike.
Whilst each of the characters is connected in some way, be it by one or two degrees of separation, to the opening narrator Amma, I felt that each woman’s tale could have been read as an individual story. Part of the success of this book, and of Bernardine Evaristo’s writing style, is that she has managed to craft twelve distinct voices. Each of the characters crackles and sparks, even in the most mundane of circumstances, and you become instantly connected to them through perfectly pitched stream of consciousness and self-reflection.
The final chapter solidifies the links between the characters and provides a satisfying (if slightly contrived) ending. And through these distinct voices the reader is given an alternative history of modern (and current) Britain.
Standout characters for me included Amma (I can’t be alone in wanting to see that play), Dominque, Carole, Bummi and Megan/Morgan.
The character hardest to connect with, having been surrounded by such inspiring and inexorably determined women, is Penelope. She is bigotted and judgemental but perhaps serves to hold an unflattering mirror up to readers or to demonstrate the deep seated and illogical belief system which have held back not only black women but all minorities in Britain – you want to believe that people like Penelope don’t still exist but they do – as evidenced in our current political climate.
Whilst the narrative baton is passed between these women of different backgrounds, classes and races they all face very similar challenges, no matter which era their story is set in. Far from making this book uninspiring and difficult to read you are left upbeat at their determination to succeed.
Many characters have very different ideas of what success looks like and what success looks like in relation to their race and gender. All have a single-minded determination to achieve something.
And yes this is a feminist book; it is about female empowerment, more so I think than Three Women. There are some comparisons to be drawn between these two hugely popular texts. Each attempts to shed light on the experiences of women in modern society and the barriers they face. Girl, Woman, Other succeeds where Three Women failed as it explores the additional barriers and impediments which race, cultural background and class can impose.
Yet Evaristo allows her characters to be critical of modern feminists:
Actually it’s the commodification of it that bugs me … have you seen all these glamorous photoshoots of stunning young feministas with their funky clothes and big attitude – until it’s no longer on trend feminism needs tectonic plates to shift, not a trendy makeover.”
Some might be put off by the sheer size of the volume (the hardback edition clocks in at over 450 pages) but Evaristo’s light and quirky prose and her magnificent storytelling make this an enjoyable and surprisingly quick read.
One issue I did have was that I started to lose interest in the characters who made up the latter chapters (with the exception of Megan/Morgan). Perhaps this was more about me than Evaristo’s writing, but I felt that these characters lacked some of the vibrancy of earlier voices.
I basked in the brilliance of this novel and have been left longing for another writer to capture more women’s stories – stories that I would not normally come across or could never experience. That is after all the joy of reading.
My theme for reading last month was “Women Talking” and it exposed me to so many different voices. Girl, Woman, Other really did encapsulate all that is wonderful about reading the stories of other women.