At last I have completed my final self-assigned Great Book for the year: the 2019 winner of the Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other. This will be a brief review, written as it is on my ipad in the kitchen of our holiday house with relatives arguing over which oil to use to fry an egg.
The book is structured around the lives of twelve women living in England, but mostly having African or West Indian origins. They range from trendy Lesbian playwrights to house cleaners. They have almost all experienced racism and have had to struggle to achieve a secure life. We have high-powered financial executives and teachers who are relatively conservative in their views, through to Hattie a hard working farmer now in her nineties but still a tough, independent woman. The book begins and ends with Amma’s story. Amma is at first a politically active and struggling playwright, and now the author of a highly successful play having its opening night at the National, The Last Amazon of Dahomey.
Amma then spent decades on the fringe, a renegade lobbing hand grenades st the establishment that excluded her
until the mainstream began to absorb what was once radical and she found herself hopeful of joining it
Amma has a daughter, Yazz, from a sperm donation from her friend, the academic, Roland. I couldn’t take to Yazz. Her narcissism and excessive self-assurance make her quite an unsympathetic character. Throughout the book it seems the young mostly have little idea of the struggles of former generations.
Each little section is an outline of a woman’s life. Women suffer rape, death of young children, giving up children by forcible adoption.
he said the baby had to go
Hattie said she wanted to keep her, just as he swiftly plucked her from her arms with his strong hands
before he left the room, he said, you don’t speak a word about this, to anyone, ever, you must forget this ever happened, Hattie
your life will be forever ruined with a bastard child
The stories, sometimes in present tense, sometimes in past, tell us all about these women. We know what they look like, what they wear, the kind of food they cook and eat, their homes, their kids, their histories, their relationships. I liked the writing layout, mostly in lower case blocks where the author gives a mini-history of each character. It was interesting and enlightening, if a little overly descriptive at times.
Hattie was my favourite character, still embattled in her nineties. The smugness of some of the younger characters I found off-putting, and the narrative can be rather neat and predictable in the way the lives of the characters overlap.
But. there is no getting around the tragedy of lives circumscribed by race and colour. Bernadine Evaristo renders the pain of immigrants arriving full of hope, only to be despised and ill-treated because of their race. Her book makes this point very effectively.
Thus ends my year of exploring a range of important books I had not read. I have read James Joyce’s Ulysses for the first time, and a range of other male and female writers, some remarkable others less so. Haruki Marukami’s book IQ 84 was the one I liked least, Friday by Michel Tournier was among my favourites.
In the coming year I was going to have a project of finally reading my twelve little Scott Moncrieff translations of Proust, but now feel more inclined to go where my fancy takes me.
Who knows what treasures I might discover.