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Review 171:
February 2021

 Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.

First Published: 2019

Internet entries:

 Bernadine Evaristo.

The author:
Bernadine Evaristo

character map.

Character Map, click to download a size version

Girl, Woman, Other by
Bernadine Evaristo

As a Booker Prize winner, there were high expectations of this book. As such the book did not disappoint, but neither did it satisfy the expectations in a conventional manner.

Structurally the book revolved around 12 inter-related characters, depicted in 12 separate chapters. Themes within the book included historic and current racism, sexism, gender fluidity.

The book was seen by club members as a clever if somewhat challenging piece of writing with the normal paragraph and sentence structures, along with punctuation being abandoned. The inclusion of a Ghanaian adinkra symbol at the head of each chapter added to the complexity, and for some, the prose style was irritating.

Most club members were overpowered by the pantheon of characters, and one had resorted to drawing a chart of the relationships. The first character, Amma, was eventually to become the major thread and it is thought her depiction might be autobiographical.

The situations and reactions of the various characters as they faced the issues challenged the reader to be aware of, and face one’s own prejudices. The book was worth reading for this alone, but there was much more. The schoolteacher Shirley resonated with a number of club members and their teaching experiences.

The characters were not displayed as victims which, given the UK track record on racism and sexism would have been an easy story mode, but they were portrayed as “getting on with life”. However, the characters often seemed to have “a voice but no heart” as one member said.

There were mixed emotions but mainly sadness amongst members on reflecting that whilst progress has been made (over the last 50 years) on sexism and racism, that the issues are still writ large in society in 2021.

Criticisms of the book included that whilst the book was not anti-male, it was heavily female biased; and that the in-laws sex scene was “cringe-worthy”. There was little character development, possibly because of the vast array of characters made the book feel like 12 short stories.

Part of the cleverness of the book was to use DNA testing to create a happy ending.

Overall, a challenging read leading to a good discussion.

AA BC ****

PC, 13th Feb 2021.


2019: Booker Prize jointly with Margaret Atwood: