How I came by Girl, Woman, Other

I’d seen it a couple of times at the bookstore (to be totally honest I was intrigued by the cover). After eyeing it for a while, I finally picked it up and decided to buy it after discovering it won the Booker Prize in 2019 and after reading the synopsis.

Readability

I loved the form of this book, even though a lot of people that I’ve discussed it with have found it problematic. Some find text lacking full-stops to be cumbersome, to say the least. It wasn’t a problem for me. I found it to flow easily, somewhere in between poetry and prose. I will discuss why I like the form so much a bit more in following paragraphs. In summary, it’s an easy read. And, it’s pretty funny.

Plot

Evaristo weaves a narrative through multiple characters. It is almost like many short stories that are all, somehow, related. In that sense, it also does not conform to the standards of a traditional novel. The novel is leading up to the opening of Amma’s, one of the main characters, play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey. 

Before we reach the play, we are introduced to twelve characters: Amma, Dominique, Yazz, Carol, Bummi, LaTisha, Shirley, Winsome, Penelope, Megan/Morgan, Hattie, and Grace. Through these characters, we traverse a period of over a hundred years and explore concepts of race, religion, feminism, gender, sexual orientation, and fluidity and how all these intersect and play out in different people across spaces and generations.

Personal Learning And Cultural Significance

On a personal level, Girl, Woman, Other is definitely a first. I haven’t read many books with black characters, I’ll admit. When I want to diversity my reading, I tend to look for Arab authors (who may happen to be black or not). And, I haven’t thought much about the experiences of blackness in the UK – my attention tends to be centred around blackness and otherness in the U.S. In addition to this, I haven’t read many characters within the LGBTQI+ community either.

So, I’m really glad I read this book. I loved the breadth and diversity of characters. I enjoyed all the nuances, the twist and turns, the idiosyncrasies, and the insight into experiences that I am not familiar with. And for that, I’m grateful.

Culturally, this book is important because it presents a myriad of black characters of characters in their full humanity, expressing their cultural, gender and sexual identities openly. It is also important because it won the author a Booker Prize – the first for a Black UK woman author.

And that brings me back to form. The form of this novel posits a departure from the norm, just like its characters (and author) do. The written text doesn’t conform to the kind of prose you would expect in a novel – it almost zigzags down the page and does not have much punctuation. Think about how the English language has influenced generation of non-English speaking people (through colonisation and other European ventures). The subaltern has often had to adopt the language of the oppressor in order to get a message across – but it is even more ecstatic when the language is adopted and the conventions of the language are not adhered to. This serves as a rebellion in itself (While the colonials imposed the English language in the Caribbean for example, the colonised fought back by rendering the English they spoke completely foreign to the colonisers).

That is why I appreciate the form Evaristo writes in so much. To me, it symbolises rebellion and a severing from the traditional conventions of language, just like her characters often represent a departure from the traditional conventions around gender, femininity and sexual expression. The prose, like the characters, is fluid.