Are there any readers who have failed to notice this book? It won the Booker Prize 2019; it is shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020. It sparkles. It’s about 12 people – girls, women and one other. I am highly recommending it.
Girl, Woman, Other
This is a long book, divided into five chapters and including an epilogue. The first four chapters each feature the stories of three people. Each story is connected to others in this collection, and the connections help it to zip along with energy.
Its epicentre is London, a London with which I became very familiar and where I lived and worked for 35 years. Most of that time I lived in Hackney, and worked either in the city’s secondary schools or at the Institute of Education, which was part of the University of London at that time, teaching teachers on masters and doctoral courses.
During that time the so-called Second Wave of feminism died down, although those of us struggling in a discriminatory world did not feel that we were in any way in post-feminist times. During that time, girls were still experiencing growing up on terms decided by men. There remained a great deal of discrimination, on the grounds of class, ethnicity and gender identity. It was hard for the young people in the schools, and hard for young women in the poorer areas.
Bernardine Evaristo covers this ground, and more. Her imaginative ability to conjure up these lives interacted with my memory of these times, and added the important ingredient of experiences of minority ethnicities.
Her characters engage with discrimination, migration, heredity, gender identity, marriage, parenthood, abusive relationships, struggles with education, employment, and so on. So much of life is here, with a female and black emphasis.
She has written beautifully about this kind of territory before, not least in Mr Loverman, set in the Hackney I knew, it could almost have been in my street!
What the judges saw
Passionate, razor-sharp, brimming with energy and humour, a must-read about modern Britain and womanhood … Dazzling. [Booker Judges quoted on the cover, quoted on the back cover of the Penguin edition]
There is so much to enjoy in this book, not least the way in which it is written. I do not recall another book that has so many main characters, and which links their lives in ways which illuminate their own and other stories. The multiple stories are told vividly, and not restricted to London or to suffering although every person featured, like every person on the planet, has to engage with the difficulties and beauties of life.
And she has adopted a somewhat restless style of writing: the text appears to be divided in traditional ways. There are chapters, with subdivision within them. On the page the text appears to be in paragraphs, but they are constructed of a main sentence or starter and then continue with a series of subclauses. Here’s an example from the start of the novel:
is walking along the promenade of the waterway that bisects her city, a few early morning barges cruise slowly by
to her left is the nautical-themed footbridge with its deck-like walkway and sailing mast pylons
to her right is the bend in the river as it heads east past Waterloo Bridge towards the dome of St Paul’s
she feels the sun begin to rise, the air still breezy before the city clogs up with heat and fumes
a violinist plays something suitably uplifting further along the promenade
Amma’s play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, opens at the National tonight (1)
I love the way this innovative form allows for multiple experiences, unfinished ideas, variation, and, in this opening statement, tells us a everything we need to know about who is featured, where and when and it alerts us to a significant event later that same day.
As I say, I highly recommend it and I am sorry our book group decided to read eleven other books this year, I would have liked to have discussed it with them. Maybe next year. But my enthusiasm has confirmed my daughter’s interest, especially as I told her she will find her school and college friends here, and our neighbours from when she was growing up.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (2019). I read the Penguin paperback edition. 453pp
Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo (2013) from Bookword in August 2014
HeavenAli reviewed Girl, Woman, Other on her blog in October last year. You can find her review here.
And an interesting list of recommendations provided by Bernardine Evaristo appeared on the Penguin site in March 2020.