I am late to the party on this one and there has already been so much said, written and debated about this book, but I loved it so much I have to join in!
I’m going to skip the blurb – if you haven’t already come across this Booker Prize winning novel then you can find out more about it here.
Firstly, I absolutely ADORED Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, but it didn’t start out that way. Like some other reviewers, I really wanted to love this book, but I got as far as chapter three and found myself debating if I should move on to something else.
I could absolutely see the book’s appeal, and why it has won multiple prizes. The characters are so vibrant, outspoken, challenging and hugely anti-establishment. These powerful women are expertly captured in the endearing, enlightening, inspiring (and later harrowing) narratives. The writing is undeniably impressive, but I felt a little like I was waiting for THE story to start. More fool me for not reading up about it a little first – but I often don’t even read the blurb.
Anyway, a few comments on Goodreads about the later stories made me skip ahead to Hattie’s story – a complete contrast to the ‘hip’ chapters of the start. I was instantly pulled inside and began to readjust my expectations, as I went back to read on.
You see this isn’t a novel as we know it. Bernardine Evaristo never intended for this (or any of her work) to fit into easy expectations. Over her 20-year career as a writer she has become known for her subversive writing, always looking to liberate herself from the shackles of convention. So its no wonder I struggled to grasp onto a clear overarching story to hook me in (although it does all connect beautifully if you give it chance).
Evaristo has described this work as ‘fusion fiction’. It’s grammatically unorthodox, so abandons the conventional use of full stops and capitals (which is actually very easy to adapt to), and it also uses what Evaristo calls pro-poetic patterning on the page, so it looks like poetry, but isn’t really poetry – it blurs. It’s this experimental form that allows for the stream-of-consciousness style of narrative that the book really achieves. We delve into the characters and the key points of their lives.
All this might make it sound a little inaccessible to those who like to simply get lost inside a story, and the characters in the opening chapters – the theatre darlings, the hip, cool and trendy ‘londonites’ – might trick you into thinking that too. But don’t buy it! Evaristo doesn’t play with form at the expense of story and accessibility at all. It is jammed-packed full of stories, anecdotes and wonderfully vibrant characters that we can (and really should) all connect with.
Once I viewed the book as a series of character studies – as beautiful, insightful observations of 12 lives that intersect, 11 women and 1 non-binary person who all perfectly capture the vibrancy of our cultural make up – I was finally hooked and I devoured every word.
As the stories continued the characters began to settle into my heart. It was like I spent a little time with each of them – getting to know them, understand their lives and the prejudices and hardships they had faced – like they were real living, breathing people. Which of course they are somewhere, so be the truth of fiction.
Some moments were heartbreaking while others were full of joy. Bummi’s story really touched me. What an incredible woman – so much heartache and trauma. Reading about the reality of skilled professionals arriving in England with such high hopes only to be met with huge prejudice and ignorance, and having to watch their dreams wither with their qualifications, was truly eye-opening. I adored Bummi so much and cheered on as she found her solution. And the stories go on in a similar vein – each narrative predominantly a 30-page exploration of a black woman’s life. I loved sitting awhile with each of them.
There is so much life, love and real, raw emotion in these stories, with an ending that knits the characters together beautifully. The wisdom running through the pages wrapped into my soul. It’s such a work of art, as you would expect of a Booker prize winner.
For anyone who, like me, stopped at chapter three, I really recommend you go back and continue. Those first three chapters are barely a hint of the life within these pages.
Girl, Woman, Other is genius, insightful, illuminating, real, necessary, roaring and magnificent as are each and every one of the characters who’s story is told.
It’s a commentary on prejudice, humanity and love and I believe everyone needs to embrace the concept of otherness that is explored within these pages and the celebration of woman too.
I have the first book hangover I’ve had in ages.
For more information about the author visit here.
Thanks for Reading!