A review of “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo

As a white, straight male, I might not be considered as an obvious reader for a polyphonic novel in which almost all the 12 voices are women of colour, several are lesbian, and one is trans gender. But this work by a Nigerian-British female author was (joint) winner of the Booker Prize in 2019 and it was clear to me that this was an important book.

I found it a wonderful read that presented a multilayered account of the black experience in Britain today. The women are of different ages and occupations with a variety of ethnic composition, occupational achievement, and sexual history over a period of decades and every story has its own fascination and illumination. 

The style is interesting: there is limited capitalisation and, except for minimal use of commas, there is no punctuation, but instead a layout that isolates sentences, phrases, and even words and works very well. The dozen voices are grouped into four chapters, each of three characters who are connected, with looser links between all the women brought together in a fifth chapter featuring the after-party of a radical play by the first of the characters, with a striking epilogue which binds two of the personages. It might sound complicated but it is splendidly executed and enables a richly textured exposition of black (female) lives (that) matter.

In such an ambitious novel, there are many messages, but one powerful conclusion is: “we should celebrate that many more women are reconfiguring feminism and that grassroots activism is spreading like wildfire and millions of women are waking up to the possibility of taking ownership of our world as fully-entitled human beings”. But: ‘feminism needs tectonic plates to shift, not a trendy make-over”.


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