Friday 4 September 2020

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo @BernardineEvari @PenguinUKBooks #GirlWomanOther #BookerPrize2019 #BookReview @bertsbooks

This is Britain as you've never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.
From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They're each looking for something - a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo was published in paperback by Penguin on 5 March 2020. I purchased my copy from Bert's Books.

I admit that I have read very few of the Booker Prize winners over the years, not because of any inverted snobbery on my part, purely because very few of them have appealed to me. However, I did read and adore The Testaments by Margaret Atwood which was the joint winner of the Booker Prize 2019 with Girl, Woman, Other.  I read Blonde Roots by Evaristo some years ago and decided it was time to move a little out of my comfort zone and read Girl, Woman, Other.

I have to mention the fact that this novel has no capital letters or full stops. However, it is not without punctuation; there are commas, and the paragraphs are structured so that they are separate. This is not a long stream of narrative that is hard to understand. It takes a couple of pages to settle into, but I had no trouble at all understanding the flow of the story. In fact, I feel that it added a depth to the novel, giving it a little something extra and certainly added to my reading experience.

Girl, Woman, Other is the story of an assortment of different woman, mainly black women, and mainly lesbian women. They are all very different, with varying backgrounds and outlooks but they are all loosely connected to Amma; the first character that the reader is introduced to. I have to admit that I did struggle with Amma at first. After years of campaigning and heckling and fighting her corner, her play is opening at the National Theatre. The opening night party is central to the whole story, it is the beginning and the end.
Amma and her daughter Yazz come across as angry. They are angry at each other, and at the world in general. There is no doubt that Amma has overcome immense prejudice to get where she is today, yet her opening introduction did nothing at all to make me warm to her. She is unlike anyone that I know. Her daughter has a sense of entitlement about her; another angry woman, but one who hasn't had as many hard battles as Amma.

However, my feelings towards the novel changed dramatically as the author introduces the other women in her story. Carole, her mother Bummi, along with Penelope and Hattie were my absolute favourite characters. Whilst I do not have much in common with any of them, the way that their characters are created is just wonderful and I was entranced by them, and their lives.

There are far more experienced and relevant reviewers than me, and they have written the most wonderfully perceptive critiques of Girl, Woman, Other  - so I'm not going to even try to dissect the issues and the themes within this story. However, I did want to write something. I wanted to say that I am so very very glad that I bought this book and that I've read it. I found it totally absorbing, I found it educational, I found it beautifully structured and wonderfully written. I found characters to love and to invest in. I found a story that surprised and delighted me.

Girl, Woman, Other is an important book, it's a revelation for those of us that have little knowledge of the worlds inhabited by the characters within it. It is compassionate and moving, and filled with life.

Bernardine Evaristo is the Anglo-Nigerian award-winning author of seven other books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African diaspora: past, present, real, imagined. 
Her writing also spans short fiction, reviews, essays, drama and writing for BBC radio.
She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University, London and Vice-Chair of the Royal Society of Literature. 
She was made an MBE in 2009.

As a literary activist for inclusion she has founded several successful initiatives, including Spread The Word writer development agency (1995-ongoing), the Complete Works mentoring scheme for poets of colour (2007-17) and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize (2012-ongoing).
Twitter @BernardineEvari
Instagram @bernardineevaristowriter

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