There are those books you cannot help but devour. You race through the pages as the plot pulls you in with questions to be uncovered.
Meanwhile, there are others that you wish would never end. You take them in page by page, word by word, absorbing its every breath.
Girl, Woman, Other is one of such books, and the pinnacle at that.
This is a novel of incredible scope that discloses the lives and struggles of twelve distinctive characters. Mostly women, black and they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers while presenting a sweeping history of the black British experience. Their diverse circumstances and diaspora unveil themes of motherhood, sexuality, feminism, otherness, gender, and abuse, just to name a few, and are all eloquently tackled with such compassion.
On the one hand, it bewilders me how The Testaments was deemed to be of the same standard of this polyvocal, multidimensional masterpiece. On the other, the backlash of the joint-Booker-Prize win only compelled me to want to get a hold of this book more, and for that I am grateful.
What immediately struck me was the lack of punctuation; an approach dissimilar to anything I have ever read before. This style is what Evaristo terms as “fusion fiction” – a hybrid ‘disruptive’ style that pushes prose towards free verse, allowing direct and indirect speech to bleed into each other and sentences to run on without full stops. Despite my initial apprehension, after just a couple of pages, I seamlessly slipped into the heads of her unique characters. The book’s fluidity enabled Evaristo to inhabit her character snapshots, across separate timelines and stories, with so much life, nuance and intersectionality. What’s more, upon slowly reading, I perceived the lack of full stops to be indicative of the work that still needs to be done in society. It may be 2020 but the conversations Evaristo encourages us to engage with are still vital.
Moreover, the 12 ‘stories’, or character studies as I suppose more aptly describes them, are grouped into four trios in which the protagonists of each share closer connections to one another, while they are also connected to the others in the most subtle of ways. Evaristo writes from the perspective of an immigrant making her way in an antiquated England, to effortlessly switching to the perspective of their second-generation grandchild figuring out their sexuality. I don’t think I could choose a single favourite, even when some of the characters are flawed or harbour out-dated views.
Although I belong to a privileged group, Evaristo writes with such skill that she brought me closer to something new, something that I can never fully comprehend, but something I consider learning about imperative. Educating ourselves on the history of the black British experience, and many other universal injustices, is essential to build a future free from such crippling inequalities. Literature acts as a window to the world, enabling us to learn from and empathise with people from a scope of backgrounds and Bernardine Evaristo has provided us with a snapshot of Britain in a way I have never read before. This is book is the paradigm of why I love reading with a passion.
Girl, Woman, Other is complex, intertwining, and simply, stunning. This may well be my favourite book of 2020.
Popsugar Reading Challenge 2020: A book than won an award in 2019.
Read more of my reviews over on Goodreads.
Thanky ou NetGalley and Penguin UK for the free e-copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Thanks for reading!