book review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

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GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER by Bernardine Evaristo
★★★★☆
2019, Grove Atlantic

 

Girl, Woman, Other is effectively a collection of interconnected short stories, divided into groups of three: each trio of stories is about a group of characters (mostly black women) directly related to one another, though in the end you start to see a fuller picture of how everything is linked.  It’s easy to see why this one won the Booker: it’s stylistically innovative, topical, skillfully structured.  And indeed it’s a very impressive book, but I did have a few more nagging issues with it than I had expected to.

I thought a few too many of the stories followed a similar trajectory to really justify including all of them: the Shirley/Winsome/Penelope trio of stories I found especially weak, and while the narrative relevance of this section becomes apparent later on, it still dragged the middle of this book down.  This book also had one of those situations that I consider a pro and a con simultaneously; Evaristo’s writing is sharp, perceptive, articulate, to the point where at times characters spoke on history’s various iterations of feminism with such an eloquence that they felt like mouthpieces for the author rather than convincing characters in their own right.

That said, these were mostly minor issues in the grand scheme of things.  I did find Evaristo’s writing to be mesmerizing, and this book’s main strength I think is her ability to convincingly draw characters from different generations and give equal weight to their unique struggles.  This book has nuance in abundance; it has so much to say about what it means to be a black woman living in the UK, and none of that could be distilled down for this review without losing a lot of its heft.  Absolutely worth reading and a very worthy Booker winner.


Women’s Prize 2020 reviewsDominicana | Fleishman is in Trouble | Girl | Girl, Woman, Other | How We Disappeared | Red at the BoneWeather


You can pick up a copy of Girl, Woman, Other here on Book Depository.

22 thoughts on “book review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

  1. Great review! I loved this book and Evaristo’s voice as well. I agree with you that the Winsome/Shirley/Penelope stories weren’t as compelling as the rest, but I loved Penelope’s ending!

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  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed this! I actually liked the Shirley/Winsome/Penelope narrations, they were all rather insufferable, but I thought it brought perspective and subtlety to the narration – like, of course it’s easy to cheer for the clear main characters (is she called Ama? I forget names), but I like seeing the perspective of the antagonists, even when all they do is be contrary and petty and judgmental. I enjoyed far less the story of Ama’s (is that her name???) kid.

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    • LOL close – Amma! I actually didn’t like Amma’s daughter’s story either, but I thought it was bookended by two stories that were so strong I minded it less. I think what bothered me about Shirley/Winsome/Penelope was that it was three weak stories back to back to back – I just didn’t feel that there was much nuance to any of them. But I definitely see your point about it being necessary to balance the book with their perspectives. I think it could have worked better if they were more compelling antagonists (at least in my opinion of what constitutes compelling).

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