Book Review: Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’

This review has been sat in my notes since December 2019 – my first book with Leeds Lit Club. It spoke to me in so many ways, but I actually approached it at first with judgment and scepticism because it was plastered all over #bookstagram and I’ve never read anything that is categorised as ‘erotic bisexual fiction’. So dubious to say the least, and having read it, it’s hardly ‘erotic’. Turns out, this book deserves the hype, and not a jointly received Brooker’s award, but a sole one. It exceeded my expectations and expanded my imagination and understanding of where I live; Britain. 

The individual stories of the 11 British Black characters and one British Black gender neutral character was a sharing of their vulnerability; each story is sacred, special, and unique in their struggle of love, family, and friendship. Yet they carry the same humanness; pain, joy, love, hope, loss, and a longing of a home. Once I heard the characters’ vulnerabilities with such detail and intimacy, I was able to recognise who they are, and consequently I felt a meaningful connection with them.

It took some adjustments to read the fusion fiction style (coined by Evaristo), but quite naturally I adapted; I didn’t notice the missing full stops, commas, capitalization, and as an editor, my eyes appreciated it. Letting go of how fiction is written, how dialogue should be written can be an analogy for letting go of how we write and tell stories altogether and of the concept of time itself. In this novel, boundaries of time were not punctuated by grammar, just as our thoughts are not. The loss of boundaries in the prose allows the reader to intimately and freely chime in with the character’s disarray. 

As the sentences fall into each other, I was able to experience the energy of the words as they too flowed into each other and into each of the characters, as if I was living in the mind of the characters. The fusion fiction aspect was felt in parts like a spoken word poetry of the deep inner worlds of 12 characters. They weren’t painted/Othered into typical stereotypes perceived and written by non-British Black writers nor did they come with a palatable blend to appease any target audience. Rather, they were human and we got a glimpse of their humanness via the inner monologues made up of both lowly and lofty voices.

Hearing the characters’ stories from their perspective humanised them. Human enough for me to not judge their choice of sexuality, affairs, gender, accent, parenting, opinions, baby abandoning. The diversity and humanness of the 12 characters reflected for me the diversity of the feminine archetypes. But, I was left with a tiny bit of sourness when I couldn’t read and learn more about the Black British Muslim character, Warsi. How are the voices of Black British Muslim women similar or different from the characters of this great piece of literary prose?

I also liked all the references made to the academics, poets, musicians, operas, popular culture, sociopolitics, history, and geography – all reflecting each of the characters’ time and place. This was exquisitely researched for the ages covered; 18-93. 

This book for me is another reminder to share our stories with each other, and I hope I get the opportunity to hear more stories like these, as they not only kept me interested and engaged, but I felt a growing level of empathy towards the characters. 

As life outside of fiction continues to unfold in expected and unexpected ways, I hope we can find meaning in them and hold empathy and understanding for ourselves and others in our communities. 

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