Girl, Women, Other – the deserving joint winner of the Booker Prize last year, is a sweeping, lyrical and all-encompassing novel.
It’s about black British womanhood, but it’s also about womanhood, and Britishness, and otherness, and our identity and histories and the ties that bind. It starts off reading as a disparate collection of short stories, but as the voices keep on coming so do the connections between them, building up an astonishingly vivid, moving and distinct picture of the lives of these fictional women.
Evaristo writes lyrically, polyphonic accounts that forgo capitalisation or full stops and thus the reader is swept up in the prose, which is astute and beautiful even in the prosaic, and evocative without being overwrought.
it’s easy to forget that England is made up of many Englands
all these fields and forests, sheep, hills, comatose villages
she feels like she’s going to the ends of the earth, while simultaneously returning to her beginnings
she’s going back to where she began, inside her mother’s womb
The stories are numerous; for example, there is Amma, the lesbian playwright on the brink of the climax of her career, the opening night of her show at the National Theatre; Carole, an Oxford graduate and city banker who has risen out of her humble beginnings, and her immigrant mother, Bummi, who toiled tirelessly to give Carole opportunities she never had.
she dragged herself out of bed
to join her tribe of bleary-eyed workers who emerged into the dimmed streetlights of her new city to clamber aboard the red double-decker buses that ploughed the empty streets
say in sleepy silence with others who had hoped for a better life in this country
And we also get a glimpse of London in the 80s, socialist ideals in artists squats in King’s Cross, living as a mixed-race girl Newcastle at the turn of the twentieth century, hopeful Caribbean newly-weds making a home in unwelcoming 1950s Britain. Evaristo carves such distinct identities for her characters, particularly well done considering that she uses third-person narrative perspective, and yet collapses the distance between reader and character so well. She brings home the message that our ancestors were just like us, that the very fact of our existence is predicated on all the women who came before.
This novel encompasses a vast range of female experiences, sexualities, feminisms and histories, and is a hugely engaging read. I did find it hard to keep track, at some points, of who was who in the story, but the ways that Evaristo weaves together the narrative is was subtle and ingenious. A hugely talented voice who was well deserving of the Booker prize win, and I’m so glad she’s had this recognition.