Girl, Woman, Other: A worthy winner

Reading Girl, Woman, Other is a humbling experience. Not just because of Bernadine Evaristo’s extraordinary talent – which is staggering – but because of her ability to guide without judgement, educate without alienation. This book is filled with voices and stories that weave and shape and feed Britain, and they must be heard. This book represents the real Britain – past, present and future. And this book, in my opinion, should be the Booker winner. 

12 flawed, strong, brilliant women

Following the stories of 12 black British women (for the most part), GWO asks centuries-old questions around race, feminism, gender and identity. It’s made up of contradictions and flawed characters, it encompasses challenges and issues that stretch from domestic abuse to adoption, and it carries a message that’s essential to creating a Britain that we can be proud of.

We meet Amma, a radical black lesbian feminist, who spent her youth rebelling against racist and sexist directors and writers. Now, she’s a theatre director staging plays at the National – and she worries about selling out. There’s her daughter, Yazz, a sharp, bold young woman with an impressive mind – but who finds herself reassessing how she judges privilege. Carole, a young black woman soaring through the ranks in the banking world, who’s overcoming a horrific childhood trauma. Bummi and her vision of a Worldwide Army of Women Cleaners, clearing up the messes that men make. Penelope, a white, middle-class Tory voter whose true identity is finally revealed. Morgan – once Megan – battling the intricacies and ignorance of gender identity. Hattie, the UKIP-voting Brexiteer who worries about her children diluting their Ethopian ancestry. 

A medley of women who are flawed, who are strong, and who each have different stories. Evaristo shows that there is not one way to be black – that one black person doesn’t represent their entire race.

“why should he carry the burden of representation when it will only hold him back? / white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race”


A strong message, but stronger characters

The message in GWO is strong – but the story is stronger. Evaristo raises a spectrum of political, social and moral issues, but they’re never at the detriment of the characters, the writing or the story. No belief is revered without challenge: she analyses and critiques every side, often with an affectionate, mocking tone. 

From the white middle class to the old-school radicals, characters have their ideals shaken and tested. The contradictions and flaws that fall out from this aren’t judged. They’re highlighted, and often, there is growth. When Dominique complains to Amma about having her feminist festival (that bans transwomen) called out, Amma delivers one of my favourite passages in the novel:

“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”


The protestors have become the protested. Life changes, and GWO highlights that we must all challenge ourselves and each other to provoke change within our own beliefs. We can’t remain static.

At the heart of GWO is intersectional feminism. The lack of it, the need for it, the difficulties in attaining it. As an aside, intersectionality is hugely important to my feminism. It’s something that I’m always striving to improve. Am I doing enough? Am I reading the right things and listening to the right people? How can I be a better ally? (not rhetorical questions – would love your opinions and thoughts).

The destruction of binaries

All of Evaristo’s characters are flawed. Despite the growth and the strong messages, they aren’t didactic or perfect or put on a pedestal. Over and over, GWO tells us: there is no one way to be a black woman. 

The contradictions in this novel trip over themselves. Evaristo takes binaries and picks them apart one by one: male/female, black/white, right/wrong, them/us, yes/no. This careful, deliberate deconstruction leaves us with the final message on the final page, spine-tingling poetry that finishes a phenomenal book.

“this is not about feeling something or about speaking words / this is about being / together.”


Transformation in 35 pages

From the outset, 12 characters – each with their own perspective – may seem like too many to follow, too many to care about. But within her poetic prose, Evaristo affords them all individual voices and idiosyncrasies. 

As you progress through the 12 stories, connections that start off fragile like cobwebs begin to strengthen. But whether the link is going to the theatre on the same night or formed by blood, all these (mainly) women are joined by similar characteristics: they’re fierce, strong, and overcome the relentless challenges in their way.

And they grow. Within each character’s sliver of space, Evaristo lets them transform. 

Dominique learns that domestic abuse and chauvinism aren’t purely male aspects (“it felt less like a sign of affection / more like a strangling”).

Yazz lets others challenge her and revels in what she learns (“and Courtney (or rather Roxanne Gay) really was right, she can see that now, privilege is about context and circumstance”).

Penelope questions her attitudes to race and identity (“who cares about her colour? why on earth did Penelope ever think it mattered?”).

Megan/Morgan learns how live gender-free, navigating the language and the let-downs (“what matters most to me, is that I know how I feel, and the rest of the world might catch up one day, even if it’ll be a quiet revolution over longer than my lifetime”).

The democratization of reviews

I wasn’t sure whether to include this section in my review, but it certainly made me think – so why not. In Morgan’s section, there’s a fairly length discussion over the ‘democratization of reviews’, i.e., basically all us amateur blogger-reviewers and social media influencers.

Here’s an excerpt from that section:

Mentioning this is probably no surprise to anyone who follows me on Instagram. It’s a topic I’m always questioning. Who gives us the right to share our (sometimes) unfounded opinions on a piece of work? Equally, if you put your work into the public eye, surely you expect a barrage of critique?

I’ve seen some terrible bad reviews. People complaining there’s too much romance in a romance-genre novel. People striking books off their wishlist because an influencer said it wasn’t for them. People unwilling to admit they didn’t understand a novel and therefore reducing it to ‘2 stars’. 

But honest reviews are necessary. They highlight problematic novels and stereotyping and points of privilege. 

I’m undecided on this. Which is partly why I’ve stopped rating books, and why I try to mainly only post about books that I think everyone needs to read.

This harks back to an issue that keeps coming up in society, especially over here in Brexit-land: the shutting-up of experts in favour of ‘everyone has an opinion!’ (regardless of how stupid or unfounded or factually-incorrect that opinion might be.

Free-flowing fusion fiction

How on earth do you describe the way this book is written, the language that’s used? Evaristo calls her work fusion fiction, and her background in writing poetry is evident. Every line and paragraph is a piece of art, steeped in rhythm and imagery. It’s lyrical and playful at times, sombre and slow at others. The writing is charged with enough energy and electricity to jolt the sleepiest Frankenstein back to life. 

As Evaristo explained in an interview, writing in this free-flowing way with no structure to impede lets her roam between past and present and get into her characters’ heads. The lack of capitalisation and full stops adds to the overarching themes of GWO. Evaristo is doing away with conventional narratives, as much as she is breaking conventional structure. 

Final thoughts: please let this win

GWO is entertaining, it’s laugh out loud in many places. It’s harsh and sad. It’s open and honest. It paints a portrait of Britain that’s rare to find, and rarely seen in the usual lists of classics. This must become literary canon – it deserves nothing less. 

Despite the harsh realities it describes, GWO is never a hard read. It flows so smoothly and in such a moreish way, that you’ll pick it up and never want to finish.

This novel takes you on a journey. You’re educated, but never preached at. You’re questioned, but never in an accusatory way. GWO celebrates the idea of belonging, of togetherness – togetherness despite deeply-entrenched beliefs and identity. 

I loved Frankissstein and Lanny. Both are deliciously weird and wonderful novels, and have a place in my heart. But when the Booker winner is announced, I’ll be crossing my fingers for Girl, Woman, Other.


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