Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other
No-one sums up Bernardine Evaristo’s novel quite like the author herself: ‘this is about being together’
It’s my first five-star review! I would like to begin by requesting that if you have not yet read this book, please go and put it on your list right now. Please.
Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is the story of our times, though it spans multi-generations of women throughout the diaspora. Sitting somewhere between a novel and a collection of short stories, this is a story of blackness in Britain told in a way that is entirely unique unto itself. Connected by Amma’s theatre performance, Evaristo takes us into the minds of twelve completely different women, though it becomes clear than many are united in more ways than it appears.
‘she will stride up to the client, shake his hand firmly (yet femininely), while looking him warmly (yet confidently) in the eye and smiling innocently, and delivering her name unto him with perfectly clipped Received Pronunciation’
Evaristo’s women really are from all walks of life. From a farm in the North East to a maisonette in Camberwell, however, they are united by a shared black British experience. Race and gender discrimination are the central themes of the novel and its through these themes that Evaristo raises questions as to where feminism gets it right, and where there is significant work to be done.
With this, she tackles difficult topics like colourism and exoticism alongside teenage pregnancy, domestic abuse and sexuality. I found one of the standout stories was one of domestic violence between two women, as the abuser manipulates and weaponises an idea of ‘true feminism’ to be used as a means of control. It was the kind of relationship that I’ve never really seen anyone write about prior to this.
‘On Our Own Terms
or Not At All.’
While Evaristo tackles heavy themes, she does so in a way that strikes the balance between being captivating and …joyous? Each woman experiences struggle – this is certainly not an idealised world – but along with the dry wit found in the voice of every character, there’s definitely a sense of togetherness and something celebratory in the way she writes.
Evaristo’s stories are intricately told and each character has their own distinct voice and idiosyncrasies. As the women delicately weave in and out of each others lives, their connections are often subtle and they don’t feel forced. In terms of the writing itself, this isn’t a conventional third-person narrative. Instead, if you look at it as one continuous tale rather than a collection of short stories, I feel like it reads a bit like an epic poem (sounds weird but it’s not, I promise).
In summary, if Evaristo announced that she was releasing twelve individual novels for each of her twelve characters, you best believe I would buy them all.