Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Man Booker Prize Winner 2019

This  a story about women, lots of black women. They are all connected in some way be it daughters, work colleges, friends or family. At times it does become difficult keeping track of who is who such is the number of characters and the number of links between them. But it is astonishingly well written with well drawn characters and it is a page turner.

It is inter-generational and provides a good social commentary on the treatment of black people  and women in the UK through out history up to the present day. But I think it makes the point that the black experience is not homogeneous.

It is not a dry book and is modern in its style of prose.  Men feature only tangentgently in this book, only in terms of their connection to the women, it is a book just as much about gender as it is about colour.  

I loved this book and would thoroughly recommend it. What did book club think of it?

Initially the writing style put Anne-Marie off, as it did with a lot of book club members. The lack of punctuation and prose style reminded her a bit of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ initially, but she started re-reading it and now loves it. She felt the characters were great and felt she really got to know them. Madeleine is also re-reading the book and felt that all the characters were so different. She loved the book not only because of the fun language in it but because she felt Evaristo was a very good writer. She really loved Anna and her connection with the National Theatre. She felt that the rape of Carol was particularly well done, you could really feal the trauma. The impact was incredible.

Caroline felt that the lack of punctuation reminded her a bit of ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns which we read at an earlier bookclub. Yulia felt that you quickly got used to the writing style. What was interesting Yulia said is how she made it possible for us to feel experiences very different from our own.

Michelle listened to the book on Audio. Like Anne-Marie she didn’t immediately warm to the book but soon loved it.

Madeleine felt that although there were twelve characters a lot of detail was given to each one and the book was engaging. Yulia felt that the writer was good at portraying different generations. Madeleine said she heard an interview with Evaristo where she said she felt she ‘got’ the younger voice because of her experience as a teacher.

Jan felt that she could read the book again. She too became engaged with the book after the Dominque story. Jan felt that there were too many characters you needed a map to see the connections between them. Michelle said this was easier to do if you read the book rather than listened to it as it was easier to take notes. Jan felt that each story was very well told and that her favourite character was Shirley.

Stephanie was one person who didn’t like the book. She felt that there were too many characters and that the book attempted to tick too many boxes. It was full of stereotypes and did not have rounded characters. She felt that some of the characters were cartoonish and played into our prejudices. We didn’t learn enough about the characters and it wasn’t nuanced enough. However, she felt to do justice to so many characters the book would have to be of Dickensian length. Stephanie admitted she wasn’t a social scientist but she flet that Evaristo made characters more extreme than necessary. She asked if anyone was not defined by their colour or gender? And said that there is a life to be lived outside of race.

Jan loved the different pictures painted of different people. She said it was a montage with some characters more vivid than others.

Shelia felt that the book did a good job of showing different ways to live as a woman and a person of colour but also felt that there were too many characters and themes. Shelia said more isn’t always better. She felt because of the lack of punctuation and stream of consciousness writing, it was better listening to it on audible rather than reading it. Shelia didn’t like the way that Shirley was portrayed. She said as someone with teaching experience herself, it was wrong to think teachers were only in it for the thanks they got. Teaching came from somewhere deeper. It was like throwing wildflower seeds out and you just hoped some would grow. She would be happy for Carole’s success.

Yulia felt that you got to know parts of London well like Peckham. Anne-Marie also felt that it gave her insight into parts of London that she did not know about. Anne-Marie said she had low expectations of the book and it had exceeded them.

Lisa liked the book, although she too warmed to it slowly. She initially thought it would be formulaic but was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t. She loved the characters blind spots. She did however feel that the end ‘surprise’ was not necessary, it was a loop that did not need to be closed. It made the story less complex and more like an Agatha Christie. She also felt that it was superficial to make the racist turn into a non-racist by giving her black heritage.

Michelle liked that that there were such different stories and all were unique. Anne-Marie said it was like quick brush strokes that left you wanting to know more. Yulia felt that she was saying here is the character you deal with it, but sometimes it left her wanting to know more. She particularly liked the character of Bumi and felt a whole book could be written about her.

Anne-Marie said it is interesting that this was a Man Booker winner as it shows how the Man Booker Prize is trending towards more experimental novels.

Next books

1st February American Wife part one by Curtis Sittenfeld

15th February American Wife part two

1st March The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

15th March Frist Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

Television recommendations

Virgin River – on the strength of recommendations made on here before I started watching this and I was hooked every episode leaves you on a cliff hanger, perfect binge watching material. Available on NetFlix

Staged – brilliant lock down conversations over zoom between Michael Sheen and David Tennant. Great comedy series. Available on BBC Iplayer

Videos to make you smile and think

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