Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a joyous patchwork quilt of a novel, celebrating seven generations, and over a hundred years, of Black British womanhood.

It begins with Amma, radical lesbian feminist playwright who now, in her fifties, finally has a play on at the National Theatre. From her, the narrative fans out, through family and friends, chance encounters and hidden connections.

There’s Yazz, Amma’s daughter, to whom her radicalism is out-dated and rather quaint. Dominique, her friend, survivor of an abusive relationship with another woman. Carol the successful banker, Bummi her highly educated Nigerian mother who worked as a cleaner to give her daughter the chances she never had. Shirley the uptight teacher. Morgan who self-identifies as gender-free. Hattie who has spent her life running a farm in a remote part of the north of England. Grace, her grandmother, daughter of an Ethiopan sailor she never met...

Evaristo plays with sentence structure – eschewing a lot of punctuation and capitalisation, and instead putting separate sentences and clauses and phrases on separate lines, so the whole thing is presented rather like an extended prose poem. You might think this would make it difficult to read, but in fact the brain adapts and the text flows perfectly .

Just as our eye is drawn across the pattern of a quilt, we are drawn from story to story by juxtaposition, while the bigger picture is formed by harmonies and contrasts of tone and shape. It’s a fascinating book – one that led more than once to my reading far too late into the night, as I finished one story only to be sucked into the next.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker 2019. And I will be sorely disappointed if this book does not make it to the shortlists of both the Women’s Prize and the Jhalak Prize in 2020.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: The Break by Katherena Vermette, Subjunctive Moods by C G Menon, Smash All The Windows, Jane Davis

Avoid If You Dislike: Defying the rules of punctuation

Perfect Accompaniment: Impossible - each story deserves its own!

Genre: Literary Fiction

Buy a copy here.

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