I read Girl, Woman, Other as part of my 2021 reading challenge. As the 2019 Booker Prize winner, I had heard excellent reviews, and had lots of recommendations.
Girl, Woman, Other follows the stories of twelve women, mostly women of colour, whose lives all interlink. Evaristo includes the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals, young women, elderly women, British nationals, and immigrants. Their stories cover hardships, like the loss of family members, postnatal depression, or being the victim of horrible abuse, and successes, like finding happiness in relationships, societal acceptance, and escaping danger.
At some points, I found Girl, Woman, Other a slog, based solely on the very ‘telling’ style of writing Evaristo adopts. She also rejects punctuation rules, choosing to use only commas to separate clauses and rejecting speech marks altogether. Sometimes it can be a little challenging to read aloud (as I am doing to send my baby to sleep). Likewise, some aspects of the book are a little uncomfortable to read aloud because they are quite sexually graphic – not a problem though when you’re reading to yourself!
However many of the stories are truly compelling. I was particularly drawn to Bummi and Carole’s stories early in the book – a mother who escaped tragedy in Nigeria, and her daughter, who suffered the horror of sexual abuse and essentially rejected her heritage in favour of a whitewashed culture. I’m a white woman, but very easily understood Bummi’s upset at her daughter’s choices. Evaristo challenges the differences between integrating into British culture, and adopting it, critiquing how black women are able to become more successful in Britain only by taking on white culture.
In another story, Megan battles with her identity, finding solace in gender neturality as Morgan, with their partner, a trans woman. Evaristo uses Girl, Woman, Other to tackle issues that arise within intersectional feminism, rather than focusing solely on black issues. Morgan’s race is not the major challenge they face in society (like Bummi, Windsome, Hattie and Grace) but their gender.
I particularly liked the epilogue. I wasn’t sure how Evaristo would pull together the loose strings of people’s stories, and I think the ending created a beautiful sense of closure.
Girl, Woman, Other is a clever commentary on intersectional feminism in the 21st century. It addresses how women (and men) of colour have been treated throughout the last 100 years. White people who constantly ask to be educated by black people on social media should read this book as a step in self education.