Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo
Updated: May 25, 2021
This book was devoured in one weekend. Which, initially I did not expect, because it is highly recommended and in every bookstore I enter it has a place in the current top 10, this fact always makes me wonder if it was ‘over-hyped’. It was not.
I found it magnificent, enlightening, ambitious and moving.
The book focus revolves around the lives of twelve women. Or more precisely: eleven, black (one woman not aware of this until the end), British (one woman does not identify as such by the end) women and one non-binary person of different ages, backgrounds, family units, religion, sexuality, gender, region, and cultural background.
(Overview of the structure of the book)
Each chapter has the name of a woman, you follow the story of her live (or part of her live). The characters are grouped in four sets of three. Every time those three have a connection to one another and as the book progresses it becomes clear that even throughout their quite different lives, they all have big or small connections to each other.
At the end of the book follows the moment where most of them come together at an event, the afterparty of a play in the National in London, the play that Amma has written & directed. (Amma is the first character you meet.) In the epilogue follows the closing of two stories, from the ones that were not at the after party.
Something else that must be added, the book is written according to the author is ‘fusion fiction, a fluid from of prose poetry.’ This is immediately clear when you start reading: You will only find capital letters at the beginning of each chapter, and with names and place names. There are no 'points', except at the end of a chapter, only commas in the sentences. And yet you know when a sentence begins and ends, she works with a kind of enjambment and at the right moments there is an end to the line, and you continue on the next line.
This, probably, does not sound like a text that reads fluently, but surprisingly enough, I found this to be the case. Once you get used to it. I understand the connection to poetry, and I found it a bit like being in the mind of the character. To be in their flow of thinking. (When I think, I am not thinking about punctuation of my thoughts.)
This book most of all gave me a representation of lives, thoughts, and people that I do not read about generally (this off course is due to my own reading habits which I am working on to incorporate more diversity). The novel explores identity, diversity and gives visibility to the lives of black, British women in a natural way. It does not feel like a lecture, it flows from story to story. It reflected Britain in a way I had never seen it before, gave me new perspectives.
In reviews I have seen comments of people who were not that enthusiastic, they found the style of writing and the distribution of the chapters feel like articles on a news site. I did not have that feeling at all, but if you do not like a book with different facets instead of one continues story, than maybe this is not your cup of tea. Even so, give it a try? It might surprise you.