“Riveting, heart-breaking, very funny” – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other is the story, or stories, of eleven (natal) women and a non-binary character, with some small input by peripheral male characters in the final pages. Each of the first four chapters is split into three, with each division the story of a new character, with the fifth chapter and the epilogue drawing them all together and tying up some loose ends. Call it multivocal, polyphonic, or fragmented; either way, it’s vast, captivating and very tightly constructed. The connections between the characters – parents, kids, school friends, teachers, best mates, colleagues – draw closer as the book progresses: Evaristo lays out twelve distinct and emotionally and materially complex lives, and yet knits them together in a way that seems organic and inevitable.

It’s colloquial in tone and immensely ambitious in scope: her characters are (mostly; no spoilers) black, immigrants or the children of immigrants from Ghana, Nigeria, the Gambia, Barbados, Abyssinia, Somalia, and their stories encompass a correspondingly immense range of experiences. They’re academics, cleaners, farmers, theatre makers, activists, teachers, shop supervisors, factory workers, and social media influencers; they’re left-wing, right-wing, UKIP-voting; they’re Leavers and Remainers, drop-outs and capital-E Establishment. They’re everybody, if that isn’t already obvious. The book is a sweeping look at immigration and the migrant experience in the UK, at race, at racism, at feminism, at misogyny, at misandry, at marriage and queer culture and trans rights and polyamory and poverty and class and generational change.

Stylistically, Evaristo has mostly eschewed conventional paragraph structure and punctuation; rather, her characters narrate their experiences thought by thought, idea by idea, evoking a passion and exuberance and intensity that is unencumbered by the dead stop of the period. It’s not as extreme as Ellman’s stream of consciousness, or, indeed, Mike McCormack’s singe-sentence extravaganza, Solar Bones: a casual reader will find it easy to navigate – the sentences themselves are, again, colloquial and chatty, richly evocative of character – and it’s also elegant, with a rhythm and a poetry to the lines that is entrancing to read.

It’s a book largely concerned with ideas (racialisation; feminism and sexuality; integration and multi-culturalism) but those ideas aren’t politically abstracted; they’re entirely embodied in its characters. There’s Amma, the avant-garde black lesbian theatre director; Carole, the social-climbing banker who comes home from university with (in her mother Bummi’s words) ‘her second term speaking out of her nose like there was a sneeze trapped up it instead of using the powerful vibration of her Nigerian vocal power’; Morgan, negotiating their non-binary identity amidst confused responses from their family; Yazz, Amma’s ebullient daughter, who shouts her Derrida-quoting father down by cribbing from her university syllabus: ‘what about Kwame Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, Aimé Césaire, Angela Davis, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Gloria Steinem, V. Y. Mudimba, Cornel West and the rest?’

Well. Exactly.

Any Cop?: It’s riveting, heart-breaking, very funny, and – hopefully – a book that will have lasting impact on the British literary scene.

 

Valerie O’Riordan

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.