Girl, Woman, Other - review, April 2020
GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER by Bernadine Evaristo
This was an interesting experiment for some of us who didn’t have a printed copy of the book, for various coronavirus related reasons. It’s a different experience reading on a Kindle, and this book in particular, with its plethora of characters, and deliberately free-form style, loses even more structure in the click-through / small page format. Whilst I see the benefit of Kindle in some ways, for this particular book I’m looking forward to keeping a hard copy for the future!
Being a Booker winner is far from being a recommendation, they are often niche, overly complicated and not a little didactic, so there was some understandable reluctance to get stuck into G,W,O at first.This book, however, is first and foremost, very readable. Even more than Milkman, perhaps, it should enjoy a much wider audience than it first received when first published. And Evaristo deserves some commercial success with some of her other seven novels perhaps!
Twelve main characters populate the story, although there are many more minor and equally intriguing characters along the way. Each one has a ‘voice’ of their own, curated through form, dialect and perspective. Without going into the details of the stories, positive adjectives abounded when we were discussing the overall effect of this book - “touching”, “emotional”, “contemporary”, “clever”, “diverse”, “sympathetic”, and “humorous” all cropped up.
Evaristo touches on a huge number of intimate issues that affect women (and men!) - rape, abortion, miscarriage, adoption, domestic abuse, same sex relationships, adultery … not necessarily in a non-judgemental way, but always seen through the perspective of someone’s personal, inner reaction, and if this is a narrow or biased view, then it is clear to the reader why.
Equally, she manages to bring up themes such as identity, privilege, class, education, feminism or age - and have a robust discussion of these using dialogue between two characters. Sometimes these dialogues are cynical and satirical, sometimes optimistic, but always candid and open. (Side note - I found this a particularly refreshing angle this week, given that the entire UK and Ireland seem to be discussing Normal People where Connell and Marianne struggle to discuss anything openly and honestly.)
There are few men, compared to the number of women characters. However the whole sense of gender fluidity, and lack of traditional roles, makes the range of characters seem pretty representative of ‘humankind’ rather than just trying to balance the male/female ratios.
We had a difference of opinion on the last section - the Epilogue. Did it really help that Penelope and Hattie met, so late in life? Did it fit right at the end of the story or feel like an afterthought, when the ‘After the Party’ chapter had already tied up a number of connections? I’ll give credit to Chiara for formulating this conclusion: -
No matter how different we are and how diverse are our lives and personal experiences (as shown by the12 different stories), if we can open our hearts to "the other " than we can open a channel for communication, acceptance and love, as Hattie and Penelope did (or suggests they will try to do).
And the fact that this message is left to two of the oldest characters suggests that is never too late. And as with all good morals it has to be at the end of all the stories to bring them together.
Amen to that.