Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

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.

17 thoughts on “Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

  1. Someone fries an egg in something besides butter?

    It will be so fascinating to find out where your fancy takes you!

    Happiest of holidays, and here’s to a 2022 of health and happiness for us all —

  2. I’m glad you found your Great Books project worthwhile, and it’s been interesting to watch your progress from the sidelines. Like you, I felt the Evaristo had much to say about race, identity, heritage and various societal preconceptions, I think some of our exam boards have added it to the A Level English Lit syllabus, along with Nella Larsen’s novella ‘Passing’, which I read for the first time this year.

    And I have to ask about the fried egg…which oil did your relatives opt for in the end? (I tend to use olive oil myself!)

  3. Prefer bacon fat. After all bacon goes with eyes and provides the fat to cook them in.
    Interesting book Gert. I’m on the last of the Outlander Series, – Go Tell The Bees That I am Gone by Diana Gabaldon. It’s been a thoroughly engaging story. I have a pile of new books on my bedside mostly about the financial system and the stock market.
    Happy New Year to you both.

  4. I’d heard too much about the sort of things Evaristo writes about in news reports and from newspaper articles, as well as having a family member suffering domestic abuse, to want to read this, however well written or worthy it undoubtedly is — because, sadly, lots of women of all ethnicities suffer in silence and never have their stories told. And would the kind of people who might be in a position to change their behaviours or effect policies that would ameliorate the lives of such women really read these fictional accounts? I was confused as to the intended audience, even with Evaristo’s Booker Prize and her becoming President of the Royal Society of Literature from 2022. Am I being too obtuse?

    But I’m pleased to see your intention to have 2022 as your Year of Reading Randomly. I’ll be as interested to see how it goes for you as I do for myself! 🙂

    1. Because of her own ethnic background Evaristo focuses on race. Because she has lived a radical lesbian life she also writes about that, but with a critical eye. And she does address the change that takes place when writers, academics etc rise in status. I think the book is written in a way that can appeal to a mainstream audience. I guess if it raises awareness it will have achieved something.

      Such a relief to be reading randomly, although I do want to read obscure and peculiar books as much as possible.

  5. I have no doubt you will discover all kinds of treasures. And when you write about them then we will too. Thank you for all you shared in 2021.

    All the very best for a great new year!

  6. I loved this when I read it a while ago (having been put off by it being “in poetry” which I don’t really think it was. I also adored her “Mr Loverman” which was quite different but equally engaging and affecting. I liked the older generation more in this one, like you; it was depressing that they forgot the battles of their elders.

    1. Could have sworn I replied to this but it has vanished into the ether…anyway, I liked her paragraph structure and the stories of the older generations. Hmm pauses…I did make a comment here about the woman who has a rather unusual relationship with her son in law. Maybe it got censored.

  7. Enjoyed your post Gert … it might have been a brief review but it feels thorough all the same. I’m trying to remember who I liked best, but certainly Hattie was up there, partly because she’s an older woman with an open mind rather than one not accepting change. I know what you mean about Yazz, but I loved her as a character because she was so well characterised. So sure of herself, so confident. I thought Evaristo got her down to a T.

    I don’t recollect its being overly descriptive at times, but I can enjoy gorgeously written description. For me the most frustrating character – which is not to say she wasn’t believable because we know it happens – was Dominique. I know this happens to people in relationships, but actually seeing it happen to a character who had seemed confident was so frustrating. “Can’t you see what’s happening?” I wanted to say! And I guess that’s exactly what Evaristo wanted us to see and feel.

  8. One says this even more on reading. her third memoir. She is so morally scrupulous about herself but I think allows the other party far too much leeway.

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