• Well Red

Voices and Viewpoints

Title: Girl, Woman, Other

Author: Bernardine Evaristo

Published: 2019

Publisher: Penguin

Rating: ****

Genre: Contemporary literature

Setting: (mostly) Britain from approx. 1895-2019

Difficulty: Medium

Pages: 452

Always spoiler free

Trigger warning for abuse in the book.

This book had been on my radar for a while, through noticing it in bookstores and bookstagram. I bought it in the summer and then it sat on my bedroom floor for quite a while.

Girl, Woman, Other follows a number of different people in a short snapshot of their life. Usually the stories reflect on common elements (how their upbringing has affected their outlook, their views on womanhood/feminism and race…but it’s flexible between the different viewpoints presented throughout the book).

This book is essentially a series of short stories that weave together to form a discourse on womanhood, sexuality, race, gender, feminism, education, poverty, generational differences (plus loads more).

What I really liked about the book is that each ‘story’ focuses on one person’s viewpoint. It’s raw and completely unfiltered; you get a snapshot of their existence and their thoughts on central themes in the book based on experiences that they’ve faced. I particularly liked the stories that had viewpoints from different generations of the same family. Each person had a certainty that their viewpoint in that moment was right, have a disdain for the relevant older or younger generation(!) and have quite valid reasons for their own philosophies and ways of living.

It doesn’t, of course, make all of the viewpoints right, or even all of them palatable.

The reflections are complex. Everyone is right, and at times horribly wrong. Evaristo doesn’t pass judgement on her characters, she just tells you how they got to that viewpoint and how that interacts with their ways of living. Other character’s pass judgement on each other, but with each as flawed as each other, you can find yourself understanding and discounting each viewpoint (it brings to mind those old idioms ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ or ‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes’)

There were a few stories where I recognised viewpoints voiced by my mother, her partner or my friends. I even recognised my own beliefs vocalised by characters. The change in generational viewpoints, and viewpoints based on a ton of other factors, just showcases how exceptional an author Evaristo is.

If you are worried about reading this book because you think you won’t be able to relate to any of the characters, don’t be. While there wasn’t a character I could ‘directly relate to’ (in terms of upbringing – mine being from an affluent, heterosexual, cisgendered white background) that didn’t affect my enjoyment or understanding of the story at all. There were tons of things throughout the stories that I related to and other parts where I realised I hadn’t even thought about something (and probably should). I gravitated towards understanding the younger characters (generational divide!) more, but even that didn’t really matter in relation to enjoying and understanding the book.

It took me a while to get my head around the way the book is written (limited punctuation). This primarily because my dyslexic brain has been trained, carefully, to follow rules that have never made sense to me. Evaristo just breaks them all over the place, and it took me a while to get over this, so I could read the story, and not see the words. This isn’t the type of book I usually read (fantasy) and I have never read anything similar before, so I also had to get used to Evaristo’s unique way of writing prose.

Linked to the above – I have a real issue with names. I cannot remember spoken or written names. As this is essentially a series of short stories (although they do link together, somewhat tangentially), it means that there are a lot of names. I mostly kept up with things, but I read this book over about a week, so I did get lost at times. As always though, this is a very ‘me’ problem. I expect most people wouldn’t have the same issues!

I think this should be a core reading for every British person in their last years of school. It will change the way you view things, and I think could be really revolutionary for a younger person, who is forming their own thoughts, philosophies and path in life.

I struggled with giving this a rating. This was because, despite all the above, I didn’t massively enjoy the book. This is mostly linked to the fact that I don’t particularly love short stories and am fondest of the fantasy genre, which this is most definitely not! However, this book is crazy good and has some incredible reflections about a modern Britain dotted through fictional characters. Please read it.

Well Red Reviews

Would I recommend this book? Yes

Favourite quote(s):

‘and we should celebrate that many more women are reconfiguring feminism and that grassroots activism is spreading like wildfire and millions of women are waking up to the possibility of taking ownership of our world as fully-entitled human beings how can we argue with that?’

‘privilege is about context and circumstance’

‘women who miraculously spend their working day wearing bondage-tight skirts and vertiginous, destabilizing heels which make their feet look bound the erogenous zones of crushed muscles and cramped bones, encased in upmarket strippers’ heels and if she has to cripple herself to signal her education, talent, intellect, skills and leadership potential then so be it’

‘Very small children don’t care about skin colour, Rachel, until they’re brainwashed by their parents’

‘there was no such thing as objective truth and if you think something’s good because it speaks to you it is’

‘I let her know she’s an apologist for the patriarchy and complicit in a system that oppresses all women

She says human beings are complex

I tell her not patronise me’

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