Girl, Woman, Other

Bernardine Evaristo | Fiction 2019

452 pages


This is an homage to what it means to be black, British, and female.  It is an astonishing and daring novel, both in style and content.

Stylistically, each chapter is the story of one woman.  Their lives overlap, but that isn’t really the core of the novel.  (Though the magic of the overlapping does shore up the end.) The core is each woman’s life, and her challenges, joys, struggles, successes, and failures with education, friendship, love, sex, career, race, and family.

Evaristo uses no periods or beginning-of-sentence capitals. She claims it makes the novel a hybrid of poetry and prose, a nod to how we communicate on the internet, and a more lyrical way for the characters to interact ...  Truth be told, I think she is correct.  There is something freeing and flowing about this style.

The content, however, is what makes Girl, Woman, Other so powerful.  Some reviewers marveled at how Evaristo presented different voices for her 12 main characters.  I didn’t it experience it that way.  I experienced it more as one voice, with many nuances, but an astounding number of similarities.

I think what made this book so intriguing for me ... and may make it so for you ... is that her characters barely overlap with my life experience.  And so, it was fascinating.  All(?) the major characters are black.  Their ancestors came from Africa or the Caribbean to London.  They are mostly feminist (that point I can relate to!) Some are very radical feminist.  Most are lesbian, although a couple were only experimenting.  Many became mothers.  Most, though not all, are not terribly successful in careers.  All had significant challenges to overcome with regard to race. Yes, there are also Muslims, trans people, and men in the stories! The character’s lives span a century, though most are set in the modern day.

Some reviewers call this book “hilarious.”  I only laughed once, but you know me, this book may have been quite funny, and I could have easily missed it.

I wasn’t sure while reading it who might like this novel.  I finally concluded that it is possible everyone, regardless of gender, orientation, race, or age, might find something to love.  I sure did.

Washington Post, Ten Best Books of 2019