Originally published: March 2019 (This edition May 2020)
Author: Bernadine Evaristo
Published by: Penguin UK
Length: 453 pages
Reading dates: 23-26 August 2020
This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.
From the top of the country to the bottom, across more than a century of change and growth and struggle and life, Girl, Woman, Other follows twelve very different characters on an entwined journey of discovery.
It is future, it is past. It is fiction, it is history.
It is a novel about who we are now.
For July’s book club read we voted to read a book by a BAME author and Girl, Woman, Other was chosen. It has been on my shelf for about 6 months so I was glad to make time to read it. What has stood out for me with this book is how everyone loves it – despite being a Booker Prize winner, it seems to be accessible to all sorts of readers, not just those who prefer literary fiction and although we only had four book club attendees this month, it was a very popular read.
Girl, Woman, Other tells the story of twelve black women from all over Britain, all different ages and from very different backgrounds. The book is divided into four parts and the characters are divided into groups of three. Within these groups of three, the characters are connected in some way.
In the first part we meet Amma, whose play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey is about to premiere at the National Theatre in London. Her sassy daughter Yazz is the second character and Amma’s best friend and creative partner Dominique is the third.
Part two features Carol a high flying business woman working in central London, her mother Bummi who thinks her daughter behaves too much like a white woman and Carol’s old school friend LaTisha who has three children by three different men but is working hard to make a good life for herself and her kids.
Part three features Shirley, a newly qualified secondary school teacher along with her mother Winsome who now lives in Barbados and another teacher Penelope, who works at the same school as Shirley.
Part four is about Megan who chooses to become non-binary and is known as Morgan, her great grandmother Hattie and Hattie’s mother Grace.
I adored this book. Written in an unusual format, with no punctuation which falls between prose and poetry, it is just a remarkable book. I loved the way I became invested in each and every character but also felt happy to move on to the next. It is written with humour and emotion. All of the characters have adversity to overcome, some more than others. All have to deal with the issues of being a black woman and because the characters are different ages, we hear about how racism has effected them all in different periods of Britain’s history.
I also was really impressed with how the author was able to tell each characters story, sometimes starting in the present day and then looking back to earlier times and sometimes starting in the past and then coming forward to the present day. The connections between the characters was just brilliant. There ware some weighty themes but there is also humour which creates a brilliant balance.
An absolutely stunning read, there is nothing in my opinion that could of been done to make it better. Jointly winning The Man Booker Prize in 2019 along with The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (which I still haven’t read) this is probably the first prize winning book I have read that I truly enjoyed! If it lurking on your book shelf waiting to be read, I urge you to pull it out and read it. And then come and talk to me about it!
Thank you to Alexia from Penguin for the gifted copy from earlier this year.
About the author:
British writer Bernardine Evaristo is the award-winning author of eight books and numerous other published and produced works that span the genres of novels, poetry, verse fiction, short fiction, essays, literary criticism, and radio and theatre drama. Her writing and projects are based around her interest in the African diaspora. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London.
Bernardine’s novel Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize 2019, and in 2020, the British Book Award’s Author of the Year and Fiction Book of the Year, and the Indie Book Award for Fiction. The novel has been nominated for many other awards and is currently on the Women’s Prize shortlist. The novel was a #1 Sunday Times bestseller for five weeks, the first woman of colour to achieve this position in the paperback fiction chart, and it has been the Top 10 for thirty weeks. Bernardine was chosen as one of The Vogue 25 list of Britain’s most influential women for 2020.
Her verse novel The Emperor’s Babe was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2013 and her novella Hello Mum was adapted as a BBC Radio 4 play in 2012. In 2015 she wrote and presented a two-part BBC Radio 4 documentary called Fiery Inspiration: Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement.
She has edited several publications and her literary criticism appears in national newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Observer, Times, Independent and New Statesman. She has also judged many literary awards and is on the Editorial Board of the African Poetry Book Fund (USA) for all its publications and prizes.