I am sure, there would be a big fuck you sign in front of the author while Bernardine Evaristo wrote this ambitious assembly of stories. The description of the book in the Booker prize shortlist was an ‘experimental novel’, which grabbed my eyes.
The book follows the story of the lives and struggles of twelve characters in Britain. ‘Mostly women, mostly black’. All these stories are connected. Some by blood, some by need or want, some virtually, and some just by chance. And, each character is characteristically different from one another to an extent that the book becomes overwhelming to absorb in its entirety. The constant struggles of the characters which are similar externally, but different internally, make you comprehend the uniqueness of each character’s experience, then generalising it or reducing them to a stereotype. These stories are not of the present but of generations. The author wanted to write about people on the margins who don’t get space in literature.
The complexity of the narrative is many-folded, as each conflict is layered with gender, sex, race, nationality, generational discrimination, love, fear, sexuality etc. To address the intersectionality of the issues, she talks about the varied perception which each character has of the other. Like, varied approach to fight patriarchy is at the contest in the book, like in life. Like, taking pride in being slightly above someone else in the social hierarchy. An excerpt in the book, borrowed from Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, talks about the idea of privilege or oppression Olympics. The excerpt explains that privilege is relative and contextual. This sense of ‘otherness’ lingers all throughout the book, as it does in our everyday lives too.
The semantic or logic of English grammar was the last thing that the author gave a ‘fuck’ about. That just amazed me. Possibly, that was the first thing that attracted me to the book. She terms it ‘Fusion Fiction’, with the absence of full stops, long sentences and changing paragraphs on will. For example, the last few lines of the book go, (swipe right)
this is not about feeling something or about speaking words
this is about being
Even with the book’s narrative complexity, and the overwhelming nature of the stories you would never want to put down the book. Possibly, those are the exact things that make the book extremely irresistible.
Published in 2019, the book co-won the Booker prize, sharing with Atwood’s The Testaments.
PS: I picked up this book just after I finished The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. A few chapters into the book I thought, the character-wise chapter breakdown structure of storytelling in Girl, Woman, Other would have suited Arundhati Roy’s novel too. Anyhow, to each their own.
Written By Rajeev. He likes to know about human experiences and the evolution of society. And, if you don’t find him reading a book then, you’d find him watching a film.
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