I bring you the review of one of the books that won the Booker Prize in 2019. I hope to read Atwood’s novel as well at some point.
Girl, Woman, Other: WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019 by Bernardine Evaristo
BRITISH BOOK AWARDS AUTHOR & FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020
WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019
THE SUNDAY TIMES 1# BESTSELLER
‘The most absorbing book I read all year.’ Roxane Gay
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 . . .
‘[Bernardine Evaristo] is one of the very best that we have’ Nikesh Shukla on Twitter
‘A choral love song to black womanhood in modern Great Britain’ Elle
‘Beautifully interwoven stories of identity, race, womanhood, and the realities of modern Britain. The characters are so vivid, the writing is beautiful and it brims with humanity’ Nicola Sturgeon on Twitter
‘Bernardine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life’ Ali Smith, author of How to be both
‘Exceptional. You have to order it right now’ Stylist
‘Sparkling, inventive’ Sunday Times
About the author:
Award-winning British writer Bernardine Evaristo is the author of seven books. She is also an editor, critic, dramatist and essayist. Her writing spans the genres of prose novels, verse-novels, a novel-with-verse, a novella, poetry, non-fiction, literary criticism and radio and theatre drama. Her latest novel, Mr Loverman, is about a 74 yr old Caribbean London man who is closet homosexual (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2013 & Akashic Books, USA, 2014). Her writing is characterised by experimentation, daring and subverting the myths of various Afro-diasporic histories and identities. She has published widely in a variety of publications and anthologies.
Her books are: MR LOVERMAN (Penguin, 2013), HELLO MUM (Penguin 2010), LARA (Bloodaxe 2009), BLONDE ROOTS (Penguin 2008), SOUL TOURISTS (Penguin 2005), THE EMPEROR’S BABE (Penguin 2001), the first version of LARA (ARP 1997), ISLAND OF ABRAHAM (Peepal Tree, 1994). For more information visit BOOKS.
Her awards include a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, EMMA Best Book Award, Big Red Read, Orange Youth Panel Award, NESTA Fellowship Award and an Arts Council Writer’s Award. Her books have been a ‘Book of the Year’ thirteen times in British newspapers and magazines and The Emperor’s Babe was a (London) Times ‘Book of the Decade’. Hello Mum has been chosen as one of twenty titles for World Book Night in 2014. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006, and she received an MBE in 2009.
Her verse novel The Emperor’s Babe was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2013 and her novella Hello Mum was broadcast as a BBC Radio 4 play in 2012. Her new novel Mr Loverman was optioned by BBC television drama in 2014.
She is co-editor of two recent anthologies and a special issue of Wasafiri magazine: BlackBritain: Beyond Definition, which celebrated and reevaluated the black writing scene in Britain. In 2012 she was guest editor of the winter issue of Poetry Review, Britain’s leading poetry journal, in its centenary year. Her issue, Offending Frequencies, featured more poets of colour than had ever previously been published in a single issue of the journal, as well as many female, radical, experimental and outspoken voices. She is guest-editing the September 2014 issue of Mslexia magazine.
Her literary criticism appears in the national newspapers such as the Guardian and Independent and she has judged many literary awards.
She has judged many prizes and she founded the Brunel University African Poetry Prize in 2011. http://www.africanpoetryprize.org/
Since 1997 she has accepted invitations to take part in over 100 international visits as a writer. She gives readings and delivers talks, keynotes, workshops and courses.
The first monograph on her work, Fiction Unbound by Sebnem Toplu, was published in August 2011 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. http://www.c-s-p.org/Flyers/Fiction-Unbound-Bernardine-Evaristo1-4438-3153-0.htm
Bernardine’s books have been translated into several languages including Mandarin.
Personal: Bernardine Evaristo was born in Woolwich, south east London, the fourth of eight children, to an English mother and Nigerian father. Her father was a welder and local Labour councillor and her mother a school teacher. She was educated at Eltham Hill Girls Grammar School, the Rose Bruford College of Speech & Drama, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned a PhD in Creative Writing. She spent her teenage years acting at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre.
She lives in London with her husband.
I thank Penguin UK and NetGalley for the ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
My list of books to read has grown so long that sometimes I’m surprised when I realise some titles I’ve wanted to read for a while had been quietly waiting on my e-reader, and I’d completely lost track of them. This is one of them. I kept reading comments and reviews and thinking I had to read it once I got a copy, and I finally realised I had it already. Oh, well, a nice surprise for a change in a year that hasn’t had many.
I’ve never read any books by Evaristo before, although she’s been writing for quite a while and has become well-known and, judging by this book, deservedly so.
Although brief, the official book description gives a good idea of the content. There isn’t a plot in the traditional sense, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, some reviewers have complained that this is not a novel, but rather a collection of twelve biographical notes, and they didn’t feel connected to any of the characters, as none of their stories were explored in detail. It is true that the book is a catalogue of the multi-faceted experience of British women from diverse ethnic backgrounds, social classes, locations (from the most rural to London and beyond), educational levels, professions, gender identities, politics, sexual interests, tastes… But rather than being true biographies (of fictional biographies), these are no stories told objectively from an outsider’s point of view. Although written in the third-person (the writing style is very special as well), we get each of these women’s stories from their own point of view, at least in their own chapter. The book is divided into 4 parts, each telling three stories that appear connected, as they are often the stories of relatives or close friends, sometimes going back several generations. The beauty of the way the book is constructed is that, as we keep reading, we come to realise that a lot of these women’s lives have intersected at some point or other, and that gives us also an outsider’s perspective on what they are like, or, rather, how they appear to others and what others think of them. Sometimes there is a huge gap between the two, but I found it difficult not to empathise with these women after seeing their lives through their own eyes, even when I might have nothing in common with some of them. When you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, it’s easier to understand who they are and to feel sorry when others dismiss them, misunderstand them, or even openly dislike them. Of course, I liked some characters more than others, but I was interested in their experiences, even those of the women I would never want as my friends.
As you can imagine from the above, the book deals in many important issues: race, gender, political views, aging, social changes, family relationships, identity in its many facets, prejudice, sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse … The risk Evaristo runs in trying to cover such wide and numerous topics is to end up skimming over all of them and never getting into the nitty-gritty of anything. That might be true, but I see this book as a celebration of uniqueness and self-definition, rather than as an in-depth exploration of one single issue. We are not just one thing to the exclusion of everything else. We aren’t only daughters or only British, or only writers, or only adopted or only heterosexual… This book illustrates the multiple possibilities, the many combinations, and the complexity of womanhood (and humanity).
The author is well-known for her poetry, and she has called the style she uses in this book “fusion fiction” a form of rather fluid prose poetry, with no capital letters at the beginning of the sentence and no full stops to mark the end of a sentence. The lack of adherence to grammar rules has bothered quite a number of readers, who found it difficult to get used to, distracting, or pretentious. I was surprised at first, and more than once I had to go back to make sure I had got the right end of the conversation, but it seemed to work well with the text-to-speech option I often use (it adapted well to the natural reading rhythm), and I suspect the same might be the case for the audiobook version. I normally recommend that readers check a sample of a book when I think the writing style might not be to everybody’s liking, and this is a case in point. If you’re thinking about purchasing it, have a look first. (I am not sharing quotes because mine was an ARC copy and any quote would need to be fairly long to give any idea of what the reading experience might be like).
There is an epilogue at the very end of the book, which I wouldn’t call a twist, but it does put an interesting spin on some of the stories. If the idea that we are all connected somehow seems to flow through the whole book, the epilogue closes the circle. (I enjoyed it, although if this was a mystery, I’d say that I’d guessed what was likely to happen well before the last page).
I recommend this novel to readers who like to explore diverse characters and alternative voices, particularly in a UK setting; to those who like to experiment different writing styles, unusual formats, and unconventional stories. And those who enjoy reading poetry should check it out as well. Some of the topics covered are quite hard and bound to be upsetting, even when not discussed in too much graphic detail, so caution is advised. I will keep track of Evaristo from now on, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.
Thanks to NetGalley, to Penguin UK and to the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe.