August 15, 2021
Girl, Woman, Other
The first thing I noticed about ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo is the free-flowing nature of the sentences. Its lack of full stops and capital letters soon makes sense, as this organic approach to punctuation matches the writing style, which is a breathless, beautiful, organic way to experience the lives of twelve very different women. Their lives criss-cross in subtle ways throughout the events outlined in the novel.
A big presence in this book is the friendships, as well as the lived experience of being a gay black woman in London. The first person we meet is Amma. Her play opens at the National tonight. There is a touch of Mrs Dalloway to her section of the novel. She’s nervous about whether it will bomb or not, and she’s reflecting on her relationship with her best friend Dominique. She used to collaborate with her to produce Bush Woman Theatre but Dominique now lives in America. And then there’s Shirley, who is totally straight and not part of the theatre scene, but comes to every one of Amma’s shows.
Later we learn how Dominique fell into a dominating relationship which led her to America, and about Shirley who teaches at a high school and who seeks out students with promise, to help lift them out of lives of poverty and limitation.
Shirley’s star pupil is now big in the financial world, and sees herself as self-made, and is a bit annoyed by Shirley’s sense of her own part in where she ended up.
And then there is Shirley’s colleague at the high school, Penelope, and her birth mother, Hattie, who is over ninety and still living out on a farm. On this farm we also meet the ‘other’ from the title of the novel. Morgan is transgender, and they and their partner, Bibi, help out at Hattie’s farm.
As I write this, the connections start to come together, but when reading it, it was more like a deep dive into a soup of experience – rich and satisfying, with language to savour as you flow from one person’s life to another, and to accept it all.