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REVIEW: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

In the last week, with the tragic murder of George Floyd by a white police officer and the subsequent peaceful protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, I have heard so many people act like the US is worse than the UK, in an effort to pretend like racism does not need to be tackled here. But it does - my God it does. These events are not only happening in the US, but they are happening everywhere, they are happening much closer than you think, sometimes even from yourself without realising. This needs to be tackled: we need to be actively listening to the diverse voices that make up our country and world because when you think that these issues don’t concern you, you will find that they definitely do and that you are part of the problem. One way in which this can be done is through literature.

Girl, Woman, Other has been on my TBR pile for a long time. A few days ago, I picked it up knowing that I need to hear these voices, and actively listen more, after having realised my bookshelves are filled with predominantly white authors (I urge you to go and check out your own book shelves). After devouring this book, I have come to the conclusion that Girl, Woman, Other is essential reading. It shows the rich tapestry of people that make up Britain, and the voices that we desperately need to hear. I have absolutely no idea why it didn’t win the Booker prize in its own right, because it is truly remarkable and deserved to.

Girl, Woman, Other follows twelve different characters, mostly Black women, living in Britain. The characters span generations, identities, sexualities, religions, and geographical space. Travelling from the top of Britain to the very bottom, this novel showcases, as told by the blurb, “Britain as it has never been told” before. Each character has their own chapter, yet they are related to one another in interesting ways, reaching right across the book, back and forth, from the smallest things like being in the same room to being related by blood.

Throughout the novel, Evaristo proves our interconnected nature. Togetherness is what she strives for, captured perfectly through her telling of the twelve stories. Each character has a very different story to tell, ranging from a lesbian socialist Playwright to a non-binary Social-Media Activist. However, even when the characters’ stories and life experiences seem very different, they are united through joy and pain alike. Evaristo tackles issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia - sometimes even blended together. These issues are partnered with moments of joy: family, friendship, and falling in love. No matter who you are, you will be able to relate to many aspects of these characters, and these will differ from person to person. As a white woman, I could only really relate to some of the stories in terms of gender and age relating more to the younger characters like Yazz. However, I learned a lot from the experiences and struggles of the other characters, ones which I could not personally relate to. I was able to see someone else's life from a new perspective, almost stepping inside and thinking "how would I feel?". This connected me to every character in so many ways, prompting understanding and empathy.

The theme of connection is also highlighted in the novel's form, with a lack of punctuation that causes a constant flow into the next sentence. Sentences, dialogue, and points of argument are distinguished through a clever use of spacing and indentation on the page. Full stops do not create barriers between thoughts in this novel, but each word leads onto the next. I found that this made the book actually easier to read (strange, I know!) as there weren't any mental blocks to the writing, it just flowed into the next section and page until I had finished! The novel's flowing form reflects the connection that the stories have to each other, and that the characters have to the reader.

Evaristo has created some beautiful characters who are also flawed. These women are victims to the cruelties of life, yet also betray to each other and themselves in many ways. Evaristo allows them to speak as they are – prejudice and all – to pick apart why these have been internalised and why they feel this way. Sometimes the only ways we can learn is through making mistakes, and watching these characters (and ourselves) make mistakes is definitely a learning curve for every reader. Evaristo effortlessly flows between ages, class positions, and race like it is the most natural thing in the world. She has fully fleshed each character, both individually and as a collective. This novel is about being a woman, yet the diverse range of stories shows many different paths with what this could mean. This novel is finding who you are through life’s various tribulations.

Evaristo finally brings home our interconnected nature as her characters end up in the same room and their stories collide in front of your eyes. There is no main character in this novel, they are all their own protagonist. In one story, the woman that is considered the ‘best friend’ suddenly becomes the main woman in the next one. How amazing is that! The novel ends (without spoiling it) on a very poignant note, that our British DNA actually exists as a blend of other countries, a myriad of identities. We are all part of each other’s blood, we are all related in one way or another. It gave me goose bumps. Britain does not exist without these voices, they make us who we are, and we need to make a conscious effort to realise this, embrace this, and celebrate this.

I give this book a very deserved 5/5 stars. I enjoyed every second reading it, every single story, every woman, and every generation. Please read books by Black authors. Listen to their stories – you will learn something about others, about your country, and about yourself.

Some of my favourite quotes:

  • “Ageing is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when the entire human race is in it together.” Pg 4

  • “Most students weren’t like this but the really posh ones were the loudest and most confident and they were the only voices she heard.” Pg 131

  • “Small children don’t care about skin colour […] until they are brainwashed by their parents.” Pg 264

  • “Filthy-rich Tories with a hatred of the social welfare system they’re actually not contributing to through tax avoidance and evasion while hypocritically scorning the underclasses.” Pg 408 (looooool)

  • “They pick up comfortably as the time before, this is the real meaning of a friendship that lasts a lifetime.” Pg 428

  • “It is easy to forget that England is made up of many Englands” Pg 450 (A perfect note to end on!)

See you next time,

Kate x

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