Bernardine Evaristo writes a prose poetic novel, honoring a wide-ranging group of black British women in her 2019 book Girl, Woman, Other. The women represent many walks of life, various generations, and diverse personalities. They connect with each other, but the book isn’t necessarily about that connection. There’s no mystery to solve, or thread to divine. Instead, each chapter tells one woman’s story, which often includes another of the women.
We start with Amma, a black lesbian playwright on the night her play about Amazon warriors debuts. Then on to her daughter and best friend. A young career woman, her mother who works as a cleaner, and a grade school classmate. Then the teacher who’s bestie is the playwright and who helps the two young women in the chapter before. Next her mother and a teaching colleague.
Round the circle goes. As the connections begin to be made, Evaristo ends with a 92-year old grandmother in Northern England, her mother and nonbinary grandchild. It is a delightful journey to travel through these women’s lives, as they dip into each other’s orbit. Sometimes it’s linear, sometimes circular, but always unique and captivating.
I loved this book. Surely I’m not the first reviewer to call it a tour de force. Evaristo has such a unique voice. She always shows us the lives of her characters, never sinking into just telling. We learn about the lovers, the homes, the jobs, the emotions of each one.
Although the lack of capitalization and some punctuation made me wary, Evaristo drew me in and wove her web of character study so I couldn’t escape. I was glad to be home sick for two days with a nasty cold, since it meant I could sink fully into the book.
Her topics are universal: race, gender identity, social history, and immigration. But also motherhood, friendships, relationships, and careers. All wrapped in the rhythm of Evaristo’s lyrical writing. I felt transported into their lives and connected to each of them. Regardless of how different I may be from the characters, Evaristo drew me in and pulled back the curtains. I saw the heart and soul of these women. And in that, I saw myself.
I recommend this for your book club, just as I’m anxious to discuss it with mine. Pair with Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins, or Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.