Evaristo brings together a sparkling cast of 12 women in a novel of intersecting London lives. Their diverse heritages are voiced through inventive language choices, ranging from Cockney to patois, making a read of playful effervescence.
Evaristo writes sensitively about how we raise children, how we pursue careers, how we grieve and how we love. We hear 19-year-old Yazz’s fierce ambition to be a journalist after university chime with supermarket supervisor LaTisha’s determination to climb “the giddy heights of retail supremacy”, and with successful banker Carole’s drive to “get on up, Carole, get on up / which is exactly what she’s doing as she disappears between the glass revolving doors of the tall office building”.
Among the book’s reflections on sexism and racism are some thoughts on the role of a black artist. Amma’s kindred spirit and artist friend, Dominique, who leaves Britain to make a new home for herself in America, bemoans the fact that “Britain feels in the past, even when I’m in its present”. The father of Amma’s daughter questions why black people are expected to “carry the burden of representation” when “white people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race”.
Girl, Woman, Other is about struggle, but it is also about love, joy and imagination. The book culminates with her protagonists – black women of different generations, faiths, classes, politics and heritages, and a few men too – thrown together at a party for a soap opera-style grand finale. Evaristo’s world is not idealised, but there is something uniquely beautiful about it. The core group holding the party together are a non-traditional family – Amma and Roland are queer parents, while Yazz, their formidable, defiant daughter with the unruly afro, bobs about the room. For many readers, it’s not a familiar world – this is a Britain less often depicted in fiction. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not a world that is possible, and worth celebrating.
There is a warm, chatty quality to the stories, so that, despite the third-person narration, they read almost like interviews. Shifts in dialect and sense of humour are subtle and convincing. I worried at times that the author would get caught up ticking boxes – gay, straight, old, young, trans, cis, girl, woman, other. Far from it. These people feel familiar: the working-class kid at Oxford trying to fit in, the Nigerian mum who wants her grandkids to look like her, the nonagenarian resisting power of attorney. Though they span diverse generations and cultural backgrounds, Evaristo’s characters share similar worries, such as success and safety. Yet even those who have spent their lives obsessing over a career find eventually that their happiness ultimately relies on their loved ones (access to the grandkids, a partner to cook with on a Sunday).