Girl, Woman, Other Review
Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is as much a book as it is a work of art. A highly considered novel with twelve protagonists, each chapter opening out like the petals of a flower, each different and yet connected, coming from each other while folding into each other.
Or maybe it’s not a flower. Maybe it’s a tapestry, with each woman’s story weaving in, blending in with each other to create a picture of the British Black Experience.
Either way, with poetic prose and well defined characters, you’re moved along the arch of each chapter as they unfold from each other. You barely even notice that there is no main storyline - this is more a patchwork of individual stories, where each one is the origin story of another story’s supporting character.
Girl, Woman, Other is structured as a series of triptychs, exploring three characters per section, at times moving you quickly through the pages and at other times forcing you to take your time, to chew the words over in your mind and be alone with your feelings. It opens with Amma, a lesbian playwright, then moves on to her daughter Yazz, then to her best friend Dominique. Amma and Dominique were righteous lesbian feminists in the 80s, complete with a self-published ‘zine and their own theatre company (started in protest of the traditional companies that wouldn’t give them work). In an interesting juxtaposition, Amma’s daughter is a performative #woke millennial, not afraid to call her mama out for antiquated beliefs. It’s a compelling exploration of generation versus generation and sets the tone for the rest of the book.
Each storyline takes you from the previous character’s mindset and perspective and brings you to a position of empathy. It’s never more obvious than when Shirley’s chapter starts. In one story she’s Amma’s square friend (who Amma believes she provides value to by bringing excitement into her otherwise boring life). In another, she’s “Fuck Face” Mrs King - the most hated high school teacher who won’t stop giving LaTisha grief. In Shirley’s own chapter, she’s someone else entirely. While they’re all the same Shirley King, they’re completely different characters - and when you get to read about her life and her true motivations, you realise that the picture painted by the other characters is, in actuality, quite far from the truth, and yet at the same time it is the truth - because it’s their truths (even if it’s not Shirley’s).
It’s a fascinating investigation into how we view each other, and how a different version of you exists in every mind that perceives you. It’s also a wonderful story of connectedness, of love, of sexuality, gender, expression and perception. It’s hard to say what this book is about, because what is being a woman about? No woman’s story is the same, and perhaps that is what Evaristo was trying to tell us. I couldn’t put it down.
Grab your copy here!