Booker 2019: Girl, Woman, Other is a vivid tapestry of black women's lives

In British author Bernardine Evaristo's astonishing Girl, Woman, Other, are a dozen stories, an irrepressible ode to multiplicity.
In British author Bernardine Evaristo's astonishing Girl, Woman, Other, are a dozen stories, an irrepressible ode to multiplicity.PHOTOS: JENNIE SCOTT, HAMISH HAMILTON

FICTION

GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER

By Bernardine Evaristo

Hamish Hamilton/Hardcover/453 pages/$36.38/Books Kinokuniya

4 stars


The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned against the danger of a single story.

Here, in British author Bernardine Evaristo's astonishing Girl, Woman, Other, are a dozen stories, an irrepressible ode to multiplicity.

Most of the 12 narrators are women - one identifies as non- binary - and most are black.

They range in age from Hattie, a farmer in her 90s, to Yazz, a 19-year-old university undergraduate. They are bankers, teachers and cleaners; lovers, daughters and mothers; from Britain, Nigeria, the Caribbean and more.

All are connected to some degree.

A novel so determined to push the envelope for diversity risks coming across as forced or didactic.

This is never the case with Girl, Woman, Other, which is a breeze to read and often memorably hilarious.

Part of this comes from the way characters subvert and undercut one another.

Amma, a lesbian patriarchy-smashing theatre director, is judged by her daughter Yazz, whom she raised as a "counter- cultural experiment".

Yazz, effervescently millennial, pursues "woke-ness" like a brand and is in turn chastised by Morgan, the transgender activist who comes to speak at her university.

 
 
 
 

Evaristo's range is impressive. She can gently mock the idiosyncrasies of political correctness in one moment and deliver a devastating account by a rape survivor in another.

The novel is keenly sensitive to the struggles faced by women of colour through the ages, from Grace, a mixed-race girl growing up in 1900s Newcastle, to Bummi, a Nigerian immigrant who will do whatever it takes to drag herself and her daughter out of poverty.

Each of these characters is rich enough to fill a whole book, but Evaristo, in a poetic slipstream, weaves their stories snugly into a vivid tapestry.

Over and over, it pulls the "Other" of its title into the centre of everything and does so with an irresistible joy.

If you like this, read: Ordinary People by Diana Evans (Vintage, 2019, $18.95, Books Kinokuniya), about two middle-aged, middle-class London couples whose marriages are languishing.