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Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo.

March 17, 2020

Girl, Woman, Other
Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo.  Black Cat, 2019.  Booker Prize winner, 2019.

5 stars

A very impressive and wonderful book, winner of the Booker Prize, about a group of black lesbians and their varied friends, families, and lovers in London by an Anglo-Nigerian women.

Bernardine Evaristo is the eighth child of an English mother who was a teacher and a Nigerian father who was a welder and Labour organizer.  After attending  English schools, she graduated from the University of London with a Ph.D. in Creative Writing.  She has published eight books in a variety of formats as well as writing for radio and the theater.  All her writings reflect her interest in the African diaspora and her desire to advocate for the inclusion of artists and writers of colorHer work has received a variety of awards, including the Booker Prize for 2019.  At present, she is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University, London.

Black lesbians are at the core of Evaristo’s prize-winning novel, but her varied cast contains so much more.  Interwoven with the central characters are an amazing mix of “others,” as her title indicates.  The novel is an ode to the variety, diversity, and fluidity of those with whom her characters relate.  Female and male, varied and changeable sexual orientations, and lots of shades of racial identity all are intertwined.  The characters are less a community than a colleague, moving into and out of each other’s lives.  The women at the core of the novel are black lesbians, some of them migrants to London or their parents were.  Yet this is not a separatist novel.  In fact, the only experimentation with separatism ends badly.  Male and/or Anglo characters are positively depicted as they are loved and hated by the women.

Evaristo manages all the characters and their various lifestyles with a strong stable structure.  The book is divided into four chapters.  Each chapter contains the stories of three women, related to the others in that chapter by shared bonds of family, friends and lovers.  These chapters are generally chronological and often offer differing viewpoints of the women.  Mother-daughter interactions are portrayed with real complexity.  Individuals from other chapters make cameo appearances. The final chapter and the epilogue bring all characters together in surprising ways.

This structure also allows Evaristo to exhibit her innovative prose.  In recreating the language of her character, she creates her own syntax by omitting periods and opening capitalization from her sentences.  Slang and alternative spellings abound.  With her unconventional writing, she emerges readers in the lives and context of her characters’ lives.  Evaristo is an experimental writer but an accessible one.  I only found her flexibility a problem when she used plural for personal pronouns with her transgender characters. But unlike some experimental writers, her narrative is usually clear. We always know who we are hearing.

This is a big book and in some ways a challenging one, but I recommend it highly.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2020 4:22 pm

    I may have to read the e-book, I so want to read this one.

  2. March 22, 2020 9:18 am

    This one is really worth finding a way to read. Although I was glad I had been given it as hard copy because it made it easier to go back and forth refreshing myself on the back stories of the many characters.

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