A review of ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo
Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is an insightful exploration of what it means to be a black, British woman in society and the prejudice and hardships that come with it. The novel follows twelve black women, with a different chapter showing the point of view of a different central character. There are links between the characters which become clear as you progress through the novel. The joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Evaristo’s 8th novel has been widely recognised as a ground-breaking piece of work in literature.
The notion of “Other” is repeatedly referenced in the book, Evaristo comments on how women of colour are often treated as outsiders in society, whether that is because they are immigrants and looked down upon for not being ‘born British’ or whether it is simply due to their skin colour. Evaristo criticises this treatment by highlighting the difference in character, sexualities and lives of these women. She stated that her motivation in writing the book was to criticise how “the women are othered in so many ways and sometimes by each other”.
“When we’re considered a minority, there’ll always be a battle to be included”. (BERNADINE EVARISTO)
Published in an era where movements such as Black Lives Matter bring the issues discussed in Evaristo’s novel to light in wider society, perhaps the most important take away of this book is how easily we can alienate others. Many of the main characters are involved of the exclusion of others, despite the majority of them facing oppression themselves, whether this alienation is intentional or not, it leads us to criticise society and we can ultimately see the relatability of the characters, as they have flaws just as we all do.
By reading about characters who are fighting against the patriarchal boundaries placed on them, or those who had been silenced by men their whole life and became accustomed to it, the novel combats the sense of “otherness” through its themes of family and togetherness. With majority of the characters related or connected in some manner, Evaristo shows genuine love through familial relationships, sexual relationships and friendships, showing the impact that a strong support system can have in a society where women of colour have to fight to truly prosper without sacrificing a crucial part of their identity.
One of the most impactful relationships in the novel is the mother-daughter dynamic between the characters Bummi and Carole, the differences between them clear and we see a dispute through Bummi’s reluctance to accept her daughter’s relationship with a white man. We also see Bummi struggle with her identity, as her Nigerian maths degree is useless in England and she has to begin her own cleaning business, contrasting completely with her daughter’s current life as a successful banker, causing a harsh chasm and perhaps feeling of jealousy in their relationship. We also see Bummi struggle in her identity and see the shame she feels in engaging in a same-sex relationship, creating a powerful message.
The book is authentic and raw, by exploring non-traditional yet relatable lives while covering a range of ages, sexualities and personalities. By creating characters that we can criticise but equally relate to, Evaristo has written a novel that is extremely modern and paves the way for intersectional feminist literature.