By Toni Berg

Joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other is a masterfully interwoven work of fiction, spanning multiple generations and several continents. The eighth of Bernardine Evaristo’s novels, she abandons punctuation for stream-of-consciousness voices, which carry an intimacy and intensity that sits somewhere between poetry and prose. 

The stories and people that populate the book have a visceral honesty about them. One finds themselves cheering at the successes, crying along with the grief, and emotionally invested in these snippets of existence. Evaristo gives us the privilege of walking into the richly varied lives of a diverse cast of mostly Black British women: from Yazz just entering adulthood to Hattie in her 90s, from the British-born to recent migrants such as Bummi and Winsome, from socialists to bankers, influencers to overqualified cleaners, Oxford graduates to unqualified school leavers, LGBT+ and non-binary folk, adoptees, orphans. She writes about people from all walks of life, both flawed and whole.

Some of the characters’ lives will resonate deeply with all audiences; in their experiences of love, overcoming adversity, and navigating intersectionality in the 21st century. Others give glimpses into segments of modern British life rarely given mainstream light, showing the human reality behind dominant stereotypes surrounding migrants and people of colour. Evaristo’s characters ruminate on belonging, race, love and loss, and form a broad picture of womanhood. Rather than discuss these complexities in the abstract, Evaristo paints them vividly into the lives of her characters.

The novel is structured into twelve chapters, each framing a new character as protagonist, which intertwines their lives organically. Many are first seen as secondary figures before returning to share their own unique voice. These tendrils of interconnectedness, between friends and family or casual acquaintances, help to build an organic web of relationships which mirror real life, enabling us to lose ourselves in the fiction as if it is history. One is captivated by all of the protagonists, their struggles and concerns presented with great authenticity. Anyone who has experienced migration, or has been othered, will find their heart singing out for these incredible people. 

The book’s power does not lie in its overarching plot. Though there are greatly satisfying final scenes; an after-party which brings everyone together after the main events, and a heartening twist in the epilogue, it is the way Evaristo gives readers a momentary glimpse into an entire world that stays with you.

Girl, Woman, Other is, in short, an incredible work of fiction, and a triumphant example of an immaculately inventive and beautiful use of language. 

Posted by:RAMpage Website

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