Last month, I read and reviewed Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments; this month, it was all about Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, also winner of the Booker Prize 2019.
Margaret Atwood’s book was never going to be short of attention but winning the Booker will bring thousands of new readers to this absolute gem. Girl, Woman, Other (“Gender is one of the biggest lies of our civilization.”) is an achingly relevant and much-needed insight into contemporary Britain.
Bernardine’s book is collection of reflections on life – its trials and tribulations, its joys and disappointments – by a number of “girls, women, others” whose lives are interconnected by the opening of a new play about Black women in London’s National Theatre.
The writer of that play, Amma, is a black lesbian socialist playwright who is reflecting on what drove her to write her play, what she wanted to convey, and those experiences that shaped her outlook. (“while troublemaking on the periphery’s all well and good, we also have to make a difference inside the mainstream, we all pay taxes that fund these theatres, right?) From here, the connections trickle out across the, mostly, Black woman whose lives have impacted her and her daughter.
Race, gender, identity and the lived experience are all key themes, as is feminism, clearly. This is a book that grapples with big questions such as, what would a completely feminist life look like in a patriarchal society? What expectations does white society, and white feminism, place on Black women? What is privilege and how does it manifest and fluctuate? What does liberation look and feel like?
“You see, Megan, I learnt first hand how women are discriminated against, which is why I became a feminist after I’d transitioned, an intersectional feminist, because it’s not just about gender but race, sexuality, class and other intersections which we mostly unthinkingly live anyway.”
What’s interesting to me is how some criticisms of the work have focused on the lack of overarching storyline. In fact, it astounds me as this is exactly the point Bernardine is making. There is no single experience that can be defined as “the gay experience”, “the Black experience”, “the poor experience.” It’s all so much more complex than that; we are all full of complexities and contradictions. But it is empathy and understanding that will bring us together; that is the message of this book that radiates with life.
Flawless, just flawless.