Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

The third book I’ve read from this year’s Booker Prize longlist. There is a review on the cover which says: “Bernadine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life”. I think that’s the perfect summary of this book.

It feels closer to a short story collection than a novel, with each chapter being about a different character. The narrative structure put me in mind of Amy Bloom’s stories, in which one chapter’s main character’s grandson (or lover or postman or whatever) becomes the narrator of the next, barely related, section. Structure like this gives the book a rounded and thought-out aspect.

Events in Girl, Woman, Other tend to come down on the side of the mundane, but with expert storytelling and phenomenal character work, Evaristo makes each story compelling to read. A lot of the text is poetic:

we courted over the forthcoming winter months when I was adjusting to the weather and the culture
I was grateful to have him to support and steer me, even though he wasn’t particularly good-looking or with a dashing personality, both attributes I’d imagined for a husband before I was mature enough to accept that it was easier to dream
than it was to make the dream come true

Bernadine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other, p258

I’m not smart enough to understand what’s going on here in terms of rhythm and meter, but it’s a joy to read.

Because most of this book is Evaristo breathing literary life into the everyday, I was growing a little tired of it by three-quarters of the way in. However, she throws in an ending which elevated me back to the levels of enjoyment I’d had for the first few chapters. I suspect that the intriguing prose is just a smokescreen for stories that subtly enhance your capability for empathy.

Interesting, well written and with a strong, upbeat ending – this is a solid Booker nominee. Worth a few days of anyone’s time.

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