In these times of social distancing, I remain ever-so-grateful that civic duty does not require me to attend gala events, grand theater openings, and post-show parties. I empathize with my extroverted friends, for whom this forced isolation is as excruciating as those parties would be for me. Large gatherings, where you have to shout for your voice to be heard by your nearest neighbor, do not spark joy. So if I tell you that Girl, Woman, Other is all these things (gala event and post-show party and large groups of people each jostling to be heard), you might assume it was a mis-match for this reader. You'd be wrong.
In this unique Booker Prize winner (and Women's Prize longlister), Bernardine Evaristo got these twelve women (and all their friends) together, and just like a party, it could have gotten out of control; in the hands of a less capable writer, it might have. But with Evaristo controlling the mic, every voice gets heard, and every voice is decidedly right.
Much has already been said about the prose-poem style of this novel, many claiming the poetic style contributed to the rhythm and swing of the narration, some arguing it was a distraction. As one who reads, writes, and loves poetry, I must admit to never acquiring a taste for the prose poem. I haven't yet read the prose poem that will open the door, for me, on its unique way of singing, even though I have often enjoyed the prose in those prose poems. Girl, Woman, Other was no different. The structure neither obstructed nor enhanced the narrative for me because my ignorance simply reads it as prose.
But these women, and their stories are fascinating, real, strong, and true. And each divided and interconnected narrative gives space for each decidedly unique woman to tell her story in her own voice. Evaristo nails each voice. As you transition between sections, there is no hesitation, no uncertain fumbling and settling in to a new character. It is just as clear as if one woman passed the mic to another. Thoroughly new, thoroughly herself. Though they have much in common, their stories are their own.
Girl, Woman, Other shines the spotlight on these black British women, all of whom could be described as "othered." But their sexualities are only a part of their identities, and Evaristo does an excellent job of making them fully human and not just types. They live rich lives, and though the narrative is fragmented, each voice is valid.
Girl, Woman, Other is one of 16 longlisted titles being considered for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction. For the full list, click here. The shortlist of 6 will be announced on April 22. The prize is announced on June 3. For other reviewed titles on the longlist, see below:
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Weather by Jenny Offill
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