Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Published by Hamish Hamilton, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Mercifully, Girl, Woman, Other is the kind of critically and commercially successful novel that is able to live up to its own extensive hype. Focussing on the loosely interconnected lives of 12 characters (mostly women, mostly black, and mostly British), it is a heartfelt, moving, and refreshingly vibrant distillation of contemporary womanhood at the intersection of culture, race, class, sexuality, and identity.
In both the parallels and the differences between each character’s experiences, Evaristo gives voice to those who are routinely told they are, indeed, ‘Other’: People of colour, queer people, immigrants, and women. By doing so, she champions the diversity of modern Britain, and honours the resilience it takes to get through life when home doesn’t always feel so welcoming. I very much enjoyed her incisive look at the balancing act children of immigrants face when attempting to embrace their own inherent Britishness while staying connected to the heritage of their ancestors, and the ongoing struggle towards self-acceptance when society has repeatedly tried to convince you you are somehow lesser.
Because we are given so many viewpoints, with each character’s section following a similar trajectory (identity crisis, coming-of-age, finding their place in the world), the already sparse plot did start to feel incidental, with little in the way of climax or conclusion. And whilst I adored how wonderfully diverse the cast of complex characters was, there were moments it threatened to tip into the realm of box ticking, with jarringly woke info-dump conversations about queer labels. These felt more like a vehicle for Evaristo to educate her readership rather than being organically reflective of the lives and loves of her characters. I’m aware that a book feeling ‘too inclusive’ is an odd criticism, and perhaps it says more about the overall state of our media than it does this particular book, but something about its handling felt a little forced to me in certain moments. Or maybe I’m just too woke myself for such conversations to feel revelatory, lol.
So, while my heart wasn’t quite captured by this one, I have a huge amount of respect for the warmth and wisdom it has to impart. I can understand its Booker win, and fully anticipate its inclusion on this year’s longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
You can find a copy of Girl, Woman, Other on Book Depository by clicking here. (At the time of posting this review, I notice it’s currently half-price, so now may be a good time if you’ve been planning to pick it up!)