Review – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
The one thing I kept asking myself while reading this book was, ‘how did I miss this?’ And ‘why haven’t I read anything by Bernardine Evaristo before’? I mean Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker in 2019 for God’s sake. But it probably says everything that Evaristo was then forced to share the prize – a rule-breaking decision on the part of the judges – with Margaret Atwood. And that she was later referred to by Shaun Ley of the BBC, reporting on the award, as just ‘another author’:
Another author who just happened to have won the most prestigious literary prize the UK has to offer. No disrespect to Atwood – I love her work and I have yet to read The Testaments. But if this shameful incident proves anything, it’s that we need more books like Girl, Woman, Other. Because it’s a novel which brings to the fore the stories – and in some cases the hidden histories – of women of colour. It forces the reader to rethink over a century of British history; it challenges the very notion that there was no space for black women in post-war England, or that their stories are in some way not valid or of interest.
There’s no obvious underlying plot to Girl, Woman, Other. Instead, we encounter a chorus of voices; it’s fundamentally more polyphony than melody. But what rises out of that complex web of harmonies is a refusal to be silenced. A refusal to accept the kind of cultural erasure which has seen British history white-washed for so long. There are, for example, the lesbian political activists Amma and Dominique – their fight against establishment England ironically ending up in Amma’s dramatic production for the National Theatre. There is trans activist Morgan, discovering their identity in their lack of gender, and Hattie – Morgan’s great grandmother – Yorkshire farmer and proud of her mixed race identity. It is a glorious revelling in the lives of people who never get their stories told, and Evaristo has the ability to get so deep inside each of her character’s conscious that you almost feel as if you were journeying with them. Ultimately, it’s a book which demands a new way of looking at the world; of acknowledging the people around us, about thinking of them in a new way. It’s probably one of the most important novels ever to have won the Booker.
So, yeah, BBC. Well done.