Review by Tina Isaacs
[Honest review in exchange for a review copy by Times Reads]
Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton, May 2019) is a portrayal of the interconnected lives of twelve protagonists, predominantly women of colour, in modern day Britain. The novel presents a compelling narrative which spans generations, presenting the loves and tribulations of an array of characters: from first generation immigrant matriarchs to disillusioned youth, women traumatised by betrayal to feminist activists.
This is my first encounter with Bernardine Evaristo and I am now most assuredly a fan. Like sharp nails digging into my brown skin, the novel’s depiction of the struggle of “Otherness” in Britain resonated deeply with my experience as a teen of colour in the English education system during the 80s. The dialogue and characters’ reflections on their seemingly bleak lot in life were delivered with insightful aplomb and humour. I still can’t shake off the image of the old lady whose “face gone slack except for a mouth that holds all her misery like a drawstring tightened around a pouch”, or the people “wearing outfits so tight you can see their hearts beating”. Then there’s the precocious child who “was never told off for speaking her mind, although she was told off for swearing because she needed to develop her vocabulary”. When I wasn’t enraptured by the protagonists’ pain and courage, I was nodding and laughing away.
Evaristo’s experimental style throws writing rules out the window – more “telling than showing” and prose in stanza format. The fast-paced plot is delivered without linear chronology but never loses the reader’s engagement. As I delved deeper into the novel, I found myself on tether-hooks to find out how the different lives intersected. As it neared its conclusion, I was already planning a reread.
In the seeming dearth of literature portraying women of colour, Evaristo’s book stands out as a heartfelt contemplation of their experiences in modern times, generations after the abolishment of slavery, apartheid, and the advent of feminism. In my humble opinion, this 2019 Booker Prize Shortlister* is undoubtedly a necessary testimony to their voices.
For me, Girl, Woman, Other earns a perfect 5/5 Star score and I am pleased to recommend it to those fond of literary realism or fiction which focus on the existential and philosophical reflections, with a twist of humour.
*EDIT: This book was subsequently named joint winner of the Booker Prize 2019, with Margaret Atwood’s The Testament.