Girl, Woman, Other is able to access each character’s subconscious, and therefore each time we meet someone new, we are forced to deconstruct what they know/don’t know about the people we’ve already met. Through these soliloquys, we observe painful misunderstandings and family secrets, small rips that become galaxies, wishing we could just reach through the page, tap them on the shoulder, and beg: please listen to each other.
Time, theme, story: all of these things are fluid here, and so is the writing itself. Full stops appear very rarely, each line tipping into the next, with half-rhymes and staccato beats, a liquid layering of narratives reminiscent of Evaristo’s debut, Lara, a semi-autobiographical novel in verse spanning 150 years and first published in 1997. I found it impossible not to stop and read sections of Girl, Woman, Other out loud, simply for the joy of hearing these words sing:
Living rooms became rehearsal spaces, old bangers transported props, costumes came from second-hand shops, sets were extracted from junk yards, they called on mates to help out, everyone learning on the job, ad hoc, throwing their lot in together
Yet, often the words deliberately do not sing. Winsome and Clovis, moving from Barbados to the Scilly Isles in the 1950s experience appalling racism: ‘two monkey people arriving on [the] island’, and Penelope, a white woman, bemoans that she will miss her two grandsons when they move to Australia, her ‘two little monkeys’, two phrases separated by forty five pages, one knifed, one tender, underlining the catastrophic power of words — their weaponry. And in the present, Amma is sharing her weapons, her words, with her biggest audience yet, and that, she hopes, is power.
Girl, Woman, Other is truly a reading experience I will never forget. I closed the book and wanted to applaud. A week later, I’ve started reading it again. Encore, encore, encore.
This book club review was written by the author and poet Jen Campbell, whose latest book is The Girl Aquarium. Please share your thoughts and observations below for a chance to win a copy of Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.