Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

One of the two winners of the Man Booker Prize for 2019. I bought all the shortlisted books, so I will slowly make my way through them. I tend to be a bit apprehensive about the Man Booker Prize nominees. I always think they will be extremely difficult to read, even though I enjoyed The Luminaries and Milkman immensely. And since we’re in lockdown I’m trying to chip away at my TBR (at the same time supporting the trade by buying a ton of books on AbeBooks, so really it’s not all working that weel when it comes to minimizing my TBR). So I decided to overcome my fear and dig into Bernardine Evaristo’s novel.

And that’s the first thing that is not really true, for it is a collection of short stories really, rather than a novel. Evaristo gives us glimpses of the lives of eleven black women and one non-binary person. Their lives and paths cross at points in time, but there is no continuous plot. Rather each of them fights for their space to tell their story.

And because of what this story is the book touches a number of topics across the 20th and 21st centuries such as racism, privilege, feminism, rape and sexual abuse, immigration, history and how it can be manipulated, gentrification and social inequalities, ability to discover happiness in our lives, as well a the bitterness it can cause. It all comes together in the experience of Evaristo’s protagonists. They are not just characters, each of them is active, has an agenda and we feel their urgency.

But what is best about this book is that it is a fantastic read. It draws you in, you really sympathize with the people described, even when at times they become petty. Evaristo accepts everything about being human and makes us accept it too. The book is funny and touching, moving, and relaxing. It keeps the pace through changing narratives and the extremely well-developed voices of each person. In talking about the important issues it makes us think, but in the way it is talking about them, it also keeps us entertained.

It is one of those rare books that are smart, and entertaining at the same time. You actually want to meet the people Evaristo describes. Spend some more time with them. Evaristo does not glorify any of them, they all make mistakes and hold opinions you may well disagree with, but she shows us how they got there. Making someone understand another human being is a gift. One that Evaristo has in abundance.

On top of that, there’s the writing. Melodic, sometimes poetic, the words come together sometimes as long sentences, sometimes as exclamations and sometimes as repeated incantations. I don’t think I’ve seen this musicality in writing, at least not since Solar Bones and there the rhythm was very different, a lot more somber and requiem like. Here we’re all about life, its ups, and downs, but in the end the sheer joy of living. Despite all the hardships and suffering the people in the book go through each story is shot through with hope and appetite for more, appetite for life, no matter what.

As I read it in the third month of lockdown (my company locked us a few weeks earlier than BoJo caught up with the reality) it was exactly what I needed to get me out of the stupor of repeating days, ridiculous government announcements and hanging in the limbo of inability to plan anything. There’s always life. A life to live and it’s on us to live it. Even if it is limited to a few walks in the neighborhood and talking to the loved ones on the phone.

For the last few posts, I’ve been writing about the synchronicities that happen when I’m more observant in the lockdown. In the case of this book, there was just one, at one point Evaristo describes how one of the characters was taught by their white fiancee the joys of walking for pleasure. This reminded me of what I learned from Wanderlust, that walking for pleasure and appreciating landscape for the sheer joy of it is a cultural construct. And one quite specific to privileged white classes. The working class had to fight for it and for many underprivileged people it is still a foreign concept.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

8 thoughts on “Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

  1. Great post, I’m hoping to read it soon. I have heard so many great things about it and I’m working my way through not the booker shortlist but the women’s prize for 2020 which features it too.


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  3. What a lovely review. I really enjoyed this and had been put off by it “being in poetry” – it’s not, is it, just laid out a bit informally which fits so well with the style. I went on to read her “Mr Loverman” which was also excellent.


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