‘Girl, Woman, Other’ – Bernardine Evaristo

‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is a novel which the many in the British literary ‘canon’ would  sell their souls to write: a profound, subtle, human state-of-the-nation cum history of living memory Britain.bernardine

The fact that it is told through the interlocking lives of twelve predominantly black women – sometimes queer, occasionally trans –  makes it all the more astonishing and allows it to destroy the myth that history belongs to the powerful: here we are presented with the simple, life affirming fact that those on the on the margins are as much a catalyst in our nation’s story as anyone else.

From 1980’s dyke feminist rebel finally on the cusp of theatrical recognition through her daughter and lovers and friends and everyone in between, Evaristo paints a vivid portrait of a country from a defiantly queer angle … we hear about immigrants of the early twentieth century, the attitudes of and towards those people as they make their lives, the role of women and how it has changed, the queer feminist rebellions of the 1980s and 1990s and the impact this has had on society; the urge for second and third generation immigrants to mould themselves into what they believe society wants, the impact of gender fluidity/ trans rights and the importance of the roles – usually invisible to historians – which black women played in our society, from nurses to farmers, to playwrights, to teachers, to bankers and everything in between.

Evaristo writes like an angel and has a masterful knack with voices, each one clear and unique, avoiding cliché while using the contrasting of individuals (rich, poor, old, young, rebel, conformist, straight, queer, trans, cis) to highlight when the reader has fallen into lazy stereotyping…something which she does this without preaching or chastising, simply weaving an hypnotic magic leaving the reader feeling richer for the privilege.

Shirley

was praised by the headmaster, Mr. Waverly, as a natural teacher, with an easy rapport with the children, who goes above and beyond the call of duty, achieves excellent exam results with her exemplary teaching skills and who is a credit to her people

in her first annual job assessment Shirley felt the pressure was now on to be a great teacher and an ambassador

for every black person in the world.

Initially I was sceptical about the style which Evaristo adopts, dropping capitals at the start of sentences and rearranging lines within the page. But this is no pretentious affectation: the lack of stop-start enforced by capitals brings a musical flow to the proceedings, the spacing encouraging the reader to read with a rhythm and timing set by Evaristo, bringing a touch of poetry to the proceedings. This pacing also allows Evaristo to produce passages whose spacing and pacing dances with the tremulous reader, on tiptoes, to the heart-stopping and heart-breaking conclusion.

The end of the novel provides a wrapping up which some may find a little too pat, but to me it was simply a neat kick up the backside to those who prefer to see (and want to see) our country as the insular, self-created and self-contained entity of myth rather than the glorious melting pot of thought, ideas, races and cultures that is our reality.

One of the lengthiest novels I have read in a while, but one which I discovered I desperately needed, devouring greedily, gulping down the magnificent picture of our country as a place of possibilities, diversity and a vibrant humanity.

 

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1 Response to ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ – Bernardine Evaristo

  1. Pingback: Books of the year…so far | wordsandpictures

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