Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
BY: PETER NJOROGE, CULTURE EDITOR
In 2019, the judges for the Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious English literary awards, decided for the first time ever to select two authors and two books for their literary prize. The first winner was Margaret Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and a very familiar name in the literary world. The other winner was a lesser-known professor of creative writing at Brunel University in London, Bernardine Evaristo.
Evaristo, the first Black winner of the Booker Prize, is the author of eight different books that accompany her expansive body of work including poetry, essays, literary criticism and theatre drama. In her prize-winning novel (of sorts) “Girl, Woman, Other,” the author, professor, poet and critic compiles 12 different fictional stories of underrepresented Black existence in the United Kingdom.
The book is written more like an avant-garde anthology rather than a traditional novel. While the characters are fictional, Evaristo uses the pages to paint detailed portraits of the lives of each of the characters in the book. Examples from the book include Amma the independent, anarchic playwright, Carole the successful daughter of a single-parent immigrant from Nigeria, and Morgan, an accidental social media phenom who uses their online presence to display and explore their non-binary identity.
As you progress through the stories, you find that all characters in the book are loosely connected, but Evaristo shows great care to avoid any corny or witless moments where all the characters convene in one moment to validate the author’s main arguments.
In addition to their sometimes connected, sometimes disconnected lives, the theme of Blackness remains a common thread between the characters. Evaristo blows up their lives to highlight very real instances of gender inequality and issues of identity, poverty and racism in each of their lives in the context of the modern United Kingdom.
The author also chooses to explore the psychological inner workings of each of the characters, which provides refreshing insight into truly underrepresented ideas about existence. Evaristo takes the reader into the life of LaTisha, a woman with multiple children from different men, and Bummi, a Nigerian immigrant who has to deal with her daughter rejecting the Nigerian culture that she grew up in.
The actual text itself is very stylized. Evaristo chooses to avoid the use of periods and often injects comments in parentheses that allow the reader to further step inside the lives of the many different characters. Also, Evaristo separates each chapter into different sections and scenes.
“Girl, Woman, Other” is undoubtedly an ambitious project. While Evaristo’s style — once you become accustomed to the punctuational eccentricities — is very enjoyable, the book seems intentionally laborious, as if the author is trying to overwhelm the reader with the varying challenges faced by the characters. Her honest exploration of these 12 individuals will prompt readers of all races, genders and ideologies to reconsider how they view modern society.
In a prelude emphasizing the the universality of “Girl, Woman, Other,” Evaristo writes: “For the sisters & the sistas & the sistahs & the sistren & the women & the womxn & the wimmin & the womyn & our brethren & our bredrin & our brothers & our bruvs & our men & our mandem & the LGBTQI+ members of the human family.”