Girl, Woman, Other (Bernardine Evaristo)
Synopsis (Goodreads): Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
I haven’t enjoyed a Booker Prize winner this much in what feels like forever. A Brief History of Seven Killings and The Sellout both frustrated me, and while I really enjoyed the audiobook version of The Milkman, it didn’t suck me in the way Girl, Woman, Other did. I haven’t yet read The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (I loved The Handmaid’s Tale, and I didn’t think a sequel was needed, and I’m waiting for the hype to die down), but it would need to be nothing short of spectacular to be deserving of the co-winner award against this book…otherwise, I will continue to believe that the Booker Prize judges are sell-outs.
Bernardine Evaristo’s narrative centres around the lives of twelve (mostly black) women in contemporary Britain. The woman are of different ages, and with different cultural and social backgrounds, but as the story unfolds, you get to experience the parallels and contrasts in their lives and experiences – how they deal with challenges ranging from sexism, racism, being survivors of abuse, and adapting to life in the UK as immigrants and the children of immigrants, to the roles they play as wives, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers.
The writing style was seductive and the characters very, very real, each with their own distinctive, raw, and often vulnerable voices. All the stories were well told, but Dominique’s encounters with Nzinga, and Megan/Morgan’s relationship with Hattie were the ones that really stood out for me.
Few authors who attempt polyphonic novels have been able to keep me engaged. I think it’s immensely difficult to condense the voices of multiple characters into individual stories that tie into a coherent whole with enough depth and wholeness, and more often than not, I lose interest because the stories either lack depth, or the cacophony of voices is too confusing. Tommy Orange’s There, There, and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing are the only two examples I can currently recall of well-written polyphonic novels, but I can now happily add Girl, Woman, Other to this list.
Given its sensitive and accurate portrayal of lives lived by women of colour in a predominantly white society in the UK, and vibrant storytelling, I’d say this is definitely one to read (and keep you home…away from other people).