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Category: Literary fiction
Format: Hardback (gift from family)
Content Warnings: Racism, homophobia, transphobia, domestic abuse, sexual assault and rape, miscarriage & post-natal depression, death of close family member
In Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo intertwines twelve lives – mostly black, British women. Their voices range from Hattie, an ancient mixed-race grandma struggling to keep her family farm and her pride along with it, to Amma, a black lesbian playwright whose radical work is showing at the National Theatre for the first time.
Through this lively spectrum of characters, Evaristo explores the nuances of identity, connection, and what it means to be proud of who you are.
Own Voices Reviews
Before I begin my review proper, I just wanted to point out that I am a white, straight, cis female – from this position of privilege I cannot personally relate to many of the experiences described in Girl, Woman, Other. With that in mind, I would like to preface by linking to some own voices reviews:
Darkowaa @ African Book Addict:
If you have written an own voices review of Girl, Woman, Other, please do let me know by dropping a comment and I will make sure to add it to this list.
First Page Impressions
I was immediately drawn into Girl, Woman, Other by the fluid writing style. Some reviewers have found this difficult, but I thought it perfectly suited a book that is so invested in overturning existing structures.
Amma’s point of view was the perfect opening number – I love books with a bit of an edge and so her radical perspective had me hooked straight away:
“Amma then spent decades on the fringe, a renegade lobbing hand grenades at the establishment that excluded her”
“the company’s motto: On Our Own Terms or Not At All”
Girl, Woman, Other was a 5-star read right from the start. It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year and will easily make it into my final top 10 post.
Final Page Reflections
For any other writer, I would have said the premise of Girl, Woman, Other was just too ambitious. Twelve different points of view??? Nevertheless, Evaristo had me invested in each and every character, likeable or less-so, within just a few pages.
I also admired how the different perspectives loop into and out of one another, often in unexpected ways, which prevents the novel feeling like a short story collection. The ‘after-party’ section at the end which brings many of the women together was particularly brilliant.
Although I was engaged with every single character, some favourites did emerge by the end…
Amma, the radical black lesbian theatre director, Bummi the mother who must watch her daughter push away her heritage, and Hattie, the 90-year-old farmer who responds with as much love as bemusement to her grandchild coming out as non-binary were all completely unforgettable.
Diversity and Representation
The polyvocal diversity was, of course, one of my favourite elements of this book. Evaristo centres black women from a variety of diaspora populations, plus there are multiple instances of LGBTQIA+ representation, including Morgan, a non-binary protagonist and the first I have encountered in my reading so far.
“gender is one of the biggest lies of our civilization”
- Activism and politics
- Migrant experience
Beyond the Book
In this novel, Evaristo calls attention to a demand that I think I have been guilty of: expecting one person from marginalised groups to speak for everyone. These demands are very much satirised in Girl, Woman, Other:
“his bredren and sistren could damned well speak up for themselves why should he carry the burden of representation when it will only hold him back? white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race”
- While reading Girl, Woman, Other, I found myself Googling new-to-me ideas and debates such as colour-blind casting. Did this apply to you, and have you encountered any other books that challenge you to expand your worldview in this way?
- Which perspectives did you find particularly intriguing and/or relatable?
- Most of the negative reviews of Girl, Woman, Other focus on the unique structure. Did you find this difficult, or did it enhance your reading experience?
“be a person with knowledge not just opinions”
Read if: You want to enjoy a vibrant novel about the black British female experience, which acknowledges that one voice is never enough.
Buy Now on Better World Books:
If you enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other, then take a look at Zami by Audre Lorde.
Have you read Girl, Woman, Other? Or any of the Booker Prize shortlist novels from 2019? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!