I have not enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo for a very long time. It’s immediately clear why this won the Booker prize. The writing is excellent, the characters leap off the page, their lives are each unique, fascinating and interlinked, and their stories are beautifully told. It is also brilliantly structured, with four chapters each focusing on the lives of three (in most cases) black (in most cases) women who are connected to each other.
The novel starts with Amma, the playwright of ‘The Last Amazon of Dahomey’, on her way to the theatre to see her play’s debut. Her daughter Yazz is up next, who is there with her Uni squad ‘the Unfuckwithables’, before the story moves on to Amma’s best friend Dominique who has arrived from the States to be there to support Amma’s opening night. Theirs is a friendship born of radical Feminism in King’s Cross decades before, that has weathered a separation across continents and some disastrous relationships along the way.
Then come Carole, Bummi and LaTisha. Carole has ‘made it’ with a very well-paid and high-flying career in the City and has a white husband called Freddy. Her mother Bummi works as a cleaner for Penelope (who comes in later), and has found love again with Kofi, after her husband died and she had an affair with her female friend Omofe. The life of LaTisha, has gone in a very different direction to her childhood friend Carole’s. She has three children and is a supervisor in a supermarket and lives at home with her Mum.
Shirley works at the Peckham school for boys and girls, is an unlikely friend of Amma’s and works with Penelope. She is frustrated by life and wonders why she never got the credit for, in her view, enabling her former student Carole to do so well and to get to University. She wishes she knew what has happened to Carole. Winsome lives in Barbados and once had an affair with her son-in-law Lennox, who is currently visiting with his wife, and Winsome’s daughter, Shirley. And it is here that Penelope finally fully arrives in the story, a white women who whose two children have moved half-way around the world with their own families.
The final trio begins with Megan, who has become Morgan and now identifies as gender-free and has given a talk about being trans at Yazz’s Uni. Hattie is Morgan’s 93-year old grandmother, who lives on a farm up North and is looking back on her long life. Last, but not least, is Hattie’s mother Grace, long-dead, having been born in 1895.
The last chapter of Girl, Woman, Other brings these stories together so cleverly, returning to the beginning of the book, at the opening night of the play at the National. It left me with a deep sense of satisfaction and sadness that I was no longer living in these characters’ worlds.