Welcome to Britain and twelve very different people – mostly women, mostly black – who call it home. Teeming with life and crackling energy, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ follows them across the miles and down the years. With vivid originality, irrepressible wit and sly wisdom, Bernardine Evaristo presents a gloriously new kind of history for this old country: ever-dynamic, ever-expanding and utterly irresistible.
If blurbs could win Booker Prizes, this would do it. Except Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo, has already won the 2019 Booker Prize and after reading it, I can certainly see why.
There was controversy attached to this year’s Booker Prize as it awarded two authors (not for the first time: Evaristo and Margaret Atwood for The Testaments). Personally, I thought what a great day for women: two female writers building worlds and narratives centred on female experience was joy to my eyes and ears!
The book follows the story of twelve individuals, as the blurb says, mostly black, mostly women, all finding a home in Britain and weaving their stories into its history. Each chapter is narrated from a different perspective, ranging from Grace, an orphan from 1905 longing for her unknown father to appear in her life, to Morgan, a gender-free individual discovering their voice in modern day northern England, to Penelope, a stuck-up teacher whose ancestry is not all it may seem.
I originally thought the narrative would follow chronologically, but was so pleased it didn’t, rather linking the voices resulting in these twelve characters all being connected.
I adored this book for many reasons. Firstly, Evaristo’s ability to forge twelve distinct, individual voices from a close third-person perspective was fascinating. From the first few lines of a new chapter, I could clearly envision these people and hear their voices as I got to know them. My favourite character was LaTisha KaNisha Jones “Chief Fucking Bitch on the prowl or Major General Mum”, mostly for that absolutely incredible description of her.
Evaristo’s ability to use language and form was also impressive – what will strike readers in the first ten seconds is firstly, there are no full stops whatsoever, and secondly, the lines are written almost in poetic verse, which at time function just like normal sentences, but are frequently used to create rhythm and voice in interesting ways. At no point did this make the prose difficult or confusing, it actually made it seem more natural, as if someone was speaking to me.
Girl, Woman, Other is brimming with stories of identity and stories of thriving rather than merely surviving. At times I was laughing hysterically at how relatable and hilarious these women were, then on the next page would be in near tears at the suffering, abuse and violence they experienced. It felt as if I had stumbled on some archives of diaries which paint the lesser-seen collective identity of the UK: those who are black, those who are women, those who do not identify as a gender, those who are old, those who are immigrants, those who do not typically “belong” on the pages of British history.
I absolutely adored this book, as my first finished book of 2020, it has definitely helped me have a great start to the new year. I would encourage anyone and everyone to read this, to learn about a new perspective and allow these voices into your life. As Evaristo puts it herself:
For all the sisters & sistas & sistahs & sistren
& the women & the womxn & the wimmin & the womyn
& our brethren & our bredrin & our brothers & our bruvs
& our men & our mandem & the LGBTQI+ members
of the human family