For sisters & sistas & the sistahs & sistren & the women & the womxn & the wimmin & the womyn & our brethren & our bredrin & our brothers & our bruvs & our men & our mandem & the LGBTQ+ members and the human family.
Defiant, Nuanced, Inclusive, Intersectional, Fluid! These are the top five words I would use to describe Bernardine Evaristo’s award-winning book- Girl, Woman, Other. This book has been on my reading list for quite some time and it was definitely everything I expected, and more.
Girl, Woman, Other is a uniquely narrated novel, an assemblage of twelve women, mostly Black and British across several generations spanning almost 100 years. Each woman is designated a chapter showcasing how she has personally navigated life. Evaristo, more often than not, invites us into the minds, families, lovers, childhoods, experiences, pasts and presents of these women seamlessly and lightly. It is like reading short stories but not quite as the lives and life experiences of the characters are intertwined, and in most cases are briefly introduced in preceding chapters before narrowing down to their individual chapters.
Arguably, the main character is Amma, who is designated the first chapter and the other chapters develop from her story; the narrative beginning and ending with her. Amma is a middle-aged lesbian and feminist playwright who has lived all her life against the tide of the system and ironically, this unconventional path has led her right back to what she has been running away from. Evaristo pivots the book on Amma’s play- The Last Amazon of Dohomey, being debuted at the National Theatre. The play inaugurates and concludes the novel.
After Amma, Evaristo refreshingly introduces Yazz, Amma’s assertive, confident and self-righteous nineteen-year-old daughter and her fresh and ‘woke’ perspectives such as how identifying as a woman is passé, stating that she is humanitarian, not feminist.
I reckon we’re all going to be non-binary in the future, neither male nor female, which are gendered performances anyway, which means women’s politics, Mumsy, will become redundant, and by the way, I’m humanitarian, which is on a much higher plane than feminism
Through Yazz’s friend group, the Unfuckwithables, the reader is welcomed into the lives of diverse young women, mostly black, struggling to find their place and voice in a historically one-dimensional world where diversity is suddenly ‘on brand’ (but not in a good way). We meet Warris, whose Yazz considers to be at the bottom of the privilege hierarchy because she is: black, Muslim, female, poor and, hijabbed and Courtney, a well-read white girl who surprisingly challenges Yazz’s notions of privilege.
Courtney replied that Roxane Gay warned against the idea of playing ‘Privilege Olympics’ and wrote in ‘Bad feminist’ that privilege is relative and contextual , and I agree Yazz, I mean, where does it all end? is Obama less privileged than a white hillybilly growing up in a trailer park with a junkie single mother and a jailbird father? is a severely disabled person more privileged than a Syrian asylum-seeker who’s been tortured? Roxane argues that we have to find a new discourse for discussing inequality
Then Dominique, Amma’s long-time friend. Evaristo touches on the deep-rooted differential approaches of liberal feminism, radical feminism, and separationist lesbianism, rather dramatically. Then Carole, Bummi, LaTisha, Shirley, Winsome, Penelope, Megan/Morgan, Hattie and Grace. Through the lives of these women, Bernardine Evaristo attempts to give a broad showcase of the experience of black womanhood in Britain across different eras and lifetimes. In her narration of the ‘micro-biographies’, Evaristo depicts the multi-layered and flawed nature of womanhood without any judgment and allows them to just be. All types of women are welcomed at her table without any justification or explanation. A perfect illustration of the phrase “come as you are”. The characters are not unpacked, defended or legitimized, Evaristo just lays them down with all their shortcomings: regular, irregular, blemished-RAW.
The book is written such that it defies the typical rules of grammar such as full stops, quotation marks for direct speech, paragraphs and the like, which is strange at first but easily adaptable. What I did not like about the book is that she scratches the surface of the lives of these women which makes it difficult to connect with any of them, given that they are twelve.
Despite the real and heavy issues such as gender inclusion, classism, racism, politics, among others, brought out by the book, Evaristo still expertly manages to make it a light and easy read. There is nothing simplistic about this novel and it has rightfully been described by The New York Times as ‘big and busy’. It doesn’t suffocate the reader with heaviness as the book flows rather effortlessly. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it has earned its place as one of my personal favourites. If it is not yet obvious, I highly recommend it!