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Book review: Girl, Woman, Other.

Girl, Woman, Other. Bernardine Evaristo.

I have always tried to keep my reading diverse. I’ve always wanted to read everything, transfixed in book shops, by the staggering number of pages and unopened worlds I have yet to explore. I will read everything and everything and I’ve never consciously tried to diversify my choices – I just, quite naively, assumed they were diverse to begin with. 

One of the biggest things I have learnt throughout the recent Black Lives Matter discussions, is that we (white people) have a complete fear of being seen as racist. Which, is totally understandable. However, to create any significant change, we have to admit the microaggressions still held within us. I’m usually a bit stubborn and don’t like to admit when I’m wrong, but this is something I have no qualms in admitting, because frankly, we’ve all gotten it wrong for a long time. We have to accept it, before we can move on and grow. Importantly, we are not alone in these mistakes. It doesn’t excuse them, but acknowledging it is a step in the right direction. 

“be a person with knowledge not just opinions”

Girl, woman, other. Bernardine evaristo.

I’ve not consciously sought out black authors. I’ve not consciously sought to learn about experiences of racism – these themes have just cropped up in the books I choose. However, I am going to make a conscious effort moving forward to keep reading them.

I actually had Girl, Woman, Other on my shelf before the death of George Floyd, but have since purchased Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad. On Blackout Tuesday (02/06/20) I swapped the book I had just started and opened up Girl, Woman, Other. 

What I discovered was pages steeped in rich history and culture. I was jarred by the lack of punctuation and poetic structure of the prose at first, but came to love it. It was slightly overdone and unnecessary in places, but complete magic in moments. Evaristo is undoubtedly a brilliant writer. The web amongst these 12 lives is incredibly clever. While hard to follow in places, it begins to come together slowly by the end and I like to think the effect is intentional. Whether it is or not. 

“women who miraculously spend their working day wearing bondage-tight skirts and vertiginous, destabilising heels which make their feet look bound the erogenous zones of crushed muscles and cramped bones, encased in upmarket strippers’ heels and if she has to cripple herself to signal her education, talent, intellect, skills and leadership potential then so be it”

girl, woman, other. bernadine evaristo.

I don’t know whether it’s the writer in me, always nosy and curious to peoples tales and stories – but I often look around a room and wonder everything about the people I’m brushing shoulders with. What stories do people in neighbouring cars hold, the adventures of those squashed into an aircraft with me and if I have any loose relation to the people around me. We’re all intrinsically curious. Evaristo fosters this curiosity within her book and her main character Amma. 

“Ageing is nothing to be ashamed of

Especially when the entire race is in it together

Although sometimes it seems that she alone among her friends wants to celebrate getting older

Because it’s such a privilege to not die prematurely”

GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER. BERNADINE EVARISTO.

The novel intersects age, gender, sexuality, history, nationalities and so much more. A rich tapestry of life within these 12 characters is woven, bringing in countless others almost seamlessly. 

“gender is one of the biggest lies of our civilisation”

GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER. BERNARDINE EVARISTO.

One of my biggest issues with the book is the blurb. In my opinion, it doesn’t do this book justice. It’s a nice blurb, but it doesn’t capture any of the book’s depth. The lives interwoven through the streets of London, up through to Newcastle, the borders of Scotland and across the pond to America. 

The BLM conversation has put this book on the map, and that always concerns me when approaching a read. You turn the pages with expectation that might not have been there, a knowledgeable critique, you wouldn’t necessarily approach other books with. 

I have never liked to classify writers by race, but I’m re-learning that it’s not necessarily a negative. I’m going to expand my knowledge of BAME authors and continue to educate myself. 

June’s Milk and Sugar Book Club Read

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