Girl, Woman, Other – Book Review

By: Bernardine Evaristo

“I’m not a victim, don’t ever treat me like a victim, my mother didn’t raise me to be a victim.”

Girl, Woman, Other is a compilation of 12 stories about 12 women who have lived or live in England.  These are not 12 independent short stories; each chapter relates to the other, and all the characters come together in the final section.

Each character details her life from childhood onwards.  Readers learn about the struggles African immigrants face when moving to England, the racism that continues today, and the many gender-based obstacles women encounter.  Each chapter offered a unique look at all of these themes.  

“…privilege is about context and circumstance”

I must admit there were some characters I didn’t really care for; some I found boring and some I found very annoying but, I understand the purpose of their story and message within the book.  Most of the characters and their stories I really enjoyed reading.  Especially the accounts related to immigration, the fear of losing your family culture, and their want to return home.  Each chapter brought a unique and interesting message.  However, near the end, it became tough to remember each character and their connections, there were just so many!

“(…) the so-called democratization of reviews means the lowering of standards, and that subject knowledge, history and critical context are at risk of being lost in favour of people who only know how to write in attention-seeking soundbites.”

 I really loved reading Carole and Bummi’s story.   (Spoiler Alert) Bummi, Carole’s mother and a Nigerian immigrant, wanted Carole to marry a Nigerian man to continue their bloodline into her grandchildren.  Of course, that is much harder in England when the pool of possible Nigerian suitors is much smaller.  Carole eventually goes to University and marries a white man.  This is when Bummi begins to feel like her Nigerian home, family and culture are slipping away.  She is so proud of Carole’s accomplishments but struggles so much to accept the loss of her Nigerian family. I think so many immigrant families go through these same emotions.  

“I wish you were around to be her grandma, to tell her what it was like for you growing up, and stories about me from when I was too young to remember” 

Bernardine Evaristo’s writing style was unique and, similar to the book Dominicana by Angie Cruz, lacked proper punctuation.  Each chapter was written as one long period-less sentence.  Periods would only come in at the end of every chapter.  I understand that this writing style may break convention and open a new way of writing, but I don’t really know why it’s necessary. The story, in my opinion, would have been just as good if it followed proper grammatical rules.  Sometimes I think there is such a significant effort to break with tradition that the changes just become unnecessary.  

“…be a person with knowledge not just opinions”

One of the themes that seemed to appear consistently was the negative portrayal of men.  Most of the men who were included in the stories were awful, boring or criminal.  Very few good men appeared in this book.  I know there are bad men out there, men who push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and get away with it but, I believe very few men fall into this category.  I don’t think this generalized idea that most men are bad is fair or accurate.

“Her friendship with Amma is based on historic loyalty and comfortable familiarity rather than shared interests and perspectives”

Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019 (along with The Testaments by Margaret Atwood) and is shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction for 2020.  I understand why this book has been making headlines.  It discusses new topics within human behaviour and lifestyle.  She breaks tradition with her writing and her stories.  It also connects well with some of today’s human rights movements.  For all these reasons, I understand why it has gained everyone’s attention.  As for me, I really liked most of it.  I liked the different stories in each chapter, I enjoyed reading about people’s lives and their history, and I liked seeing how all the characters connected again in the end.  There were so many characters with different thoughts and opinions, it must have been difficult for Evaristo to write this, but I think she did a great job!

“…c’mon, delete all negative thoughts, Carole, release the past and look to the future with positivity and the lightness of a child unencumbered by emotional baggage life is an adventure to be embraced with an open mind and loving heart”

More books by Bernardine Evaristo:

*Mr. Loverman (4.5/5 Goodreads review)

*Blonde Roots (3.5/5 Goodreads review)

*Hello Mum (3.5/5 Goodreads review)

“Bernardine Evaristo is the Anglo-Nigerian award-winning author of several books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African diaspora: past, present, real, imagined. Her novel Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019. Her writing also spans short fiction, reviews, essays, drama and writing for BBC radio. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University, London, and Vice Chair of the Royal Society of Literature. She was made an MBE in 2009. As a literary activist for inclusion Bernardine has founded a number of successful initiatives, including Spread the Word writer development agency (1995-ongoing); the Complete Works mentoring scheme for poets of colour (2007-2017) and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize (2012-ongoing)” (Goodreads summary)

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