As promised in the last week’s review, I am finally bringing a review about a book written in English. It is ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo. I am probably one of the many readers who purchased Evaristo’s book after she won an absolutely deserved Booker Prize. To be completely honest, I have not heard of her or her work before and I am incredibly happy that I finally corrected that mistake. In ‘Girl, Woman, Other’, different perspective of England is presented, that of twelve black women, with very distinct stories that intertwine in the culmination of the novel. I have thoroughly enjoyed this novel and finished reading it in less than two days.
There are many different aspects of this novel that contributed to my full immersion into the stories of these women,but let’s start with the most obvious one, narrative techniques. I am a huge fan of multiple narrators and polyphony and believe that when it is done right, it can be a huge resource for writers. Evaristo employs this technique with seeming ease, making each of the character unique in its own light but also leaving clues that show how connected they all are, one way or another. She also uses it to show us how one and the same event can be seen vastly different by its participants. For example, two students see their teacher as stubborn and stuck up, but when we are given her perspective and learn more about her, it provides more depth into her than just another strict teacher. These connections are sometimes more obvious (mother and daughter or two best friends), but at times they are a bit more subtle. Either way, once I realized that they are all connected, I really enjoyed finding the hints in different chapters.
Another feature that is quite prominent is the punctuation, or lack thereof. If you simply opened the book, you will see that there are no capital letters and Evaristo frequently breaks off the sentences mid line. I have seen some complaints about this and I did find it a bit strange at first, but after a while I actually enjoyed it. At times, her work actually read like poetry, making the flow smoother and more natural. In fact, it seemed that the rejection of the traditional spelling also reflects the rejection of traditional way of life by the protagonists in the story. Overall, I think that from the technical point of view, Evaristo utilized techniques that further elevated the already fascinating narrative.
With all of that being said, though, for me the best part of the novel were the characters. They are twelve black women living in England and each of them is dedicated a chapter to tell their story. What I found quite fascinating is that Evaristo wrote them from a third person perspective, but gave each of them such distinct features that they felt like I could meet each of them on the streets of England. Sometimes, in books that use polyphony there is that one character that you really do not care about and just want to get through their bit so you can move on to a good one. This was not the case for ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. There were those I could not relate to or that I did not personally like, but I genuinely enjoyed all the chapters and was fascinated by all the women. Their life stories, although similiar in sense of skin color, are actually rather diverse and cover different generations of women. In this way, Evaristo can comment upon the treatment of black people in England, showing that while it has improved from open violence and contempt, racism is far from gone but is rather more subtle and manifests in different, but potentially equally damaging ways.
In addition to the obvious theme of racism, there are a lot of other significant themes that she is able to discuss. Given that all of her characters are black (although some are white passing) women, she also tackles the intersection of sexism and racism in a very straightforward way. However, she also includes very relevant discussions about gentification and education system in the UK, showing its effects in England, especially on the marginal communities. Another topic that I appreciated Evaristo incorporated is that of abusive relationships that also happen in same sex relationships, something that I have not came across enough in mainstream literature. Without spoiling too much of the actual plot, all I will say is that the message was quite clear, that it can happen to anyone and that it can be extremely difficult to leave it, even with support system. Through some of her characters, Evaristo is able to openly talk about the issues related specifically to LGBTQ population. I also loved that their sexual orientation is a huge part of their characters, but not the only one. Non hetero characters are fully fleshed people with their fears and aspirations, while never forgetting that this part of them is important for them. Overall, I think that because of such a diverse cast of characters, this novel explores various social topics without feeling like it is too much or pushing too hard.
However, as much as I loved this much needed representation, I did not enjoy the approach to the issue of gender non conforming identity. While I absolutely agree that representation of people not belonging to the binary division of gender is incredibly impportant, Morgan’s chapter felt quite rushed and not really developed well. Part of their story is given by their partner who is introducing them to the world of gender non conforming and I did not enjoy it. She came across as quite preachy and quite agressive towards somebody who is quite new to this world and I do not think that it is a very good message for those struggling build their gender identity. What are your thoughts on this chapter? Do you agree with me or did you like this approach? Leave your comments below.
At the end, this is an incredibly relevant book for the time we live in. It offers a fresh perspective on the widely known topics through quite successfuly used narrative techniques such as polyphony and unusual punctuation. ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is a character driven story that are used to explore these topics with honesty and a lot of heart and soul. For me, this novel ticked all the boxes that make a good book and I really enjoyed learning more about some of the issues that black people in England face today and faced in the past. If you are interested in the topics I mentioned earlier in the review and love well developed and strong female characters, I am sure you will love this book. Did you read this book? What did you think about it? As always, if you feel like I missed something in my review, leave your comments down below.