Warning: there will be slight spoilers in this review which deal with disturbing subjects.
I’m probably the very last book blog to review Girl, Woman, Other but I have finally read it! Given the hype this book has had I’m sure everyone knows what this is about: twelve interconnected stories following twelve (mainly) black (mainly) women living in the UK. Through their eyes a story of the nation is seen.
The stories are told through a stream of consciousness, which at points almost reads like poetry. It has a very lyrical quality to it and there were many passages that were beautifully written. This method also allows Evaristo to explore the characters more in depth, to capture their personalities which really allows the readers understand these people and their lives. Yet, whilst Evaristo deals with the small, personal things, she also tackles the UK at large, highlighting the experiences women of colour across decades. She delicately and effortlessly weaves both the personal and the political into the narrative. How the women interconnect throughout was also brilliantly done. It was fun to see characters reappear in other stories, and seeing events from multiple perspectives. The last two chapters were also excellent in wrapping up these women’s stories and created a satisfying conclusion.
Yet I did have some issues with the book. The most pertinent one is how Evaristo tackles some hard-hitting topics. One woman is gang-raped when a teenager, and another suffers from drug addiction. It is uplifting to see these women overcome their struggles and rise up and succeed, despite the hardships they suffered. And I understand that there are pivotal moments that make people change their lives for the better. But these topics are mentioned so briefly that it seems as though Evaristo is merely dismissing them. For example, the drug addiction and recovery is resolved in less than 3 pages, and the character beats her addiction whilst her family is on holiday. Really? Someone manages to curb their addiction within a month (we’re never told how long her parents away so could be less) with no help from anyone? It felt throwaway, as though Evaristo wanted this character to suffer, decided upon drug addiction but quickly abandoned it in favour of moving the plot forward. Rape was also dealt similarly to this. For such serious subjects, they’re dealt with so fleetingly I wondered if they were truly necessary. Those scenes and how they were handled left me with an unpleasant taste.
A slightly lesser criticism is that some of the characters sounded identical to one another. As mentioned before, the stream of consciousness was a really effective technique, but a lot of the word choice and the flow of the language were similar across the stories. This made the characters seem less individual and blurred into one. If the names hadn’t been repeated throughout, I probably would have struggled to remember who the narrator was. I should point out that this doesn’t apply to all of the characters, some personalities truly shone through just sadly others faltered.
It is obvious why Girl, Woman, Other has achieved the enormous success and critical acclaim it has. How Evaristo has constructed the novel is brilliantly done, and she manages to encapsulate the black, female experience living in Britain really well. There were just some things that irked me in the narrative which stopped me from completely loving the book. Some of the subjects brought up were not dealt with sufficiently; the drug abuse still baffles me. If you’re going to deal with serious topics, then perhaps give them more than two pages in the book. Plus some of the voices could have been stronger. Overall I did like Girl, Woman, Other but don’t love it as much as others.
Girl, Woman, Other is published by Penguin and you can find more information here.