Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo

‘you see, Megan, I learnt first hand how women are discriminated against, which is why I became a feminist after I’d transitioned, an intersectional feminist, because it’s not just about gender, but race, sexuality, class and other intersections which we mostly unthinkingly live anyway.’

Bernadine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only the straight, white man can walk this earth unburdened by discourses of race, gender or sexuality.

They are free of responsibility to other people. The opposite can be said of BAME, female and/or LGBTQ+ voices, as our culture places unfair expectations on them to represent entire communities; a story of one black woman is too often forced to speak for all black women.

Bernadine Evaristo subverts these expectations in her incredible novel Girl, Woman, Other. She confronts structural racism and misogyny; and shatters the myth of one unified experience.

This kaleidoscopic novel weaves together the lives of 12 black womxn, revealing a narrative of British society so rarely portrayed.

This book is as unique as each of the characters in it. I have never read anything like it.

In less skilled hands, this may have read as a short-story collection. But Evaristo masterfully creates a diverse and collective narrative of Britain through the eyes of each of her characters.

While we have come to expect individual stories to represent one unified experience, in Evaristo’s novel, the multitude of experiences are the story.

Each of the characters speak for themselves and only themselves. They connect with each other but none of them are the same.

From Amma, a mother, a lesbian and a playwright who is staging a show at the National Theatre.

To Morgan, formally known as Megan, who comes out as non-binary after exploring their gender identity through social media and the internet. They in turn become a Twitter influencer.

And Carole, first generation born in the UK to Nigerian parents, who goes to Oxford University and feels alienated as one of few black, working class people in her college.

These are just three examples of Evaristo’s wide range of unique and diverse characters. They have different skin tones; are from different class backgrounds; follow different beliefs and religions; and identify across the sexuality and gender spectrums.

With that, Evaristo sensitively explores other issues intersecting with race. For example, homophobia and transphobia; as well as nuances in privilege politics; and the barriers to education and the historically white, middle-class establishment.

Far from representing a singular black womxn experience of Britain, Evaristo’s characters show that there are countless possible ways to be black in contemporary Britain.

As well as the multiple character perspectives, the next thing you will notice when you read Girl, Woman, Other, is the unusual writing style that breaks with traditional rules of grammar. Only names have capital letters and there are no full stops. Sentences are broken up by simply moving onto the next line.

The effect is almost like poetry on the page. To read, it is both literary and accessible at the same time. I was surprised how easy it was to accept these new rules of grammar. It can be jarring sometimes reading a book that experiments with traditional sentence structure, but Evaristo’s writing felt very organic. At no point did it feel forced and I was absorbed by this novel completely.

Girl, Woman, Other was free from conventions both in its writing style and its characters, who were each so vividly realised.

A bestseller and Booker Prize winner, this book had a lot of hype. I was so happy and relieved that Girl, Woman, Other not only lived up to the hype but it completely blew me away.

An instant favourite and a must read for intersectional feminists everywhere.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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