So, I’m definitely very late to this party but I feel like I needed to wait. There was so much hype around this that I just couldn’t face reading it until now. I put so much pressure on this novel to be good that it became impossible to even look at it. However, I needed a G title for my August Spell the Month Challenge and now seemed like a great time to bust this one out. I also needed something else to read alongside The Unfortunates because that wasn’t the kind of book that I could take to work to read during my lunch. So, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of this one. It is a decision that had mixed results.
Before I get into anything else, I have to say that the audiobook version of this book is an absolute disaster. The narrator is one of the worst that I’ve ever experienced and the production is appallingly bad. Considering this was a joint Booker Prize winner, you’d think they would have put more work into it. Instead, we are forced to listen to the narrator mess up pronunciations, ruin the pacing, stumble over certain phrases and general make it an uncomfortable listening experience. It’s a shambles and really doesn’t do Bernardine Evaristo’s work justice. It’s such a shame because I definitely feel as though I’ve missed out on something by listening to the audiobook. Considering so many readers will be reliant on it to experience Girl, Woman, Other, it seems like a huge oversight.
After all, this is a book that should be widely read. It’s the kind of book that deserves the attention it’s had and should be available to all readers. In it, Evaristo tells the story of 12 women and the journeys they’ve been on. It is a historical piece of literature that also very much speaks to our present day. This is the story of strong and independent Black women who have needed to overcome intense struggles to maintain their identity and find their place in a messed up world that is working against them. Spanning around 100 years, we see how society has changed but, at the same time, how little it has changed for so many. Girl, Woman, Other is a huge undertaking and works hard to present different stories. Different but all, in their own way, connected.
For a book with such a sweeping and ambitious premise, this is an incredibly readable book. It never feels too intense or bogged down with social commentary. It has an effortless feel to it. Although there is a substantial cast of characters, it never gets confusing. Each woman has their own voice and it’s easy to keep up with who everyone is. The characters are introduced in an understandable order. Each woman follows on from someone that they have some kind of connection with, which often means we trace back family roots for multiple generations. You really get a sense of shared history between these women. Even when many of them have never nor will ever meet. These Black women all come from similar stories and must fight for their right to live in a world that is against them for so many reasons. You see that unspoken and invisible connection throughout this narrative.
Although, that’s not to say that Evaristo is trying to say that the Black female experience is the same. The stories here are all unique and different. The connection is there but this is a book that admits no woman will ever live the same life as another. There are common threads and common experiences but every person is different. We meet people of different sexualities, genders, ages and social classes. We meet people who grew up in loving families and those who grew up fending for themselves. We heard the stories of people who had everything they could ever want and those who had to struggle every day.
As we span several decades throughout the course of this novel, we see attitudes changing over the years. Specifically when it comes to feminism and attitudes towards sexuality and gender. This book never feels preachy about any of these issues but it does capture the specific era for each character. We meet women struggling to fight against the patriarchy in general, Black women who are refused their own voice in the debate, and women who fear the influx of new gender identities. Again, this is a book that proves no two women are the same and just how easy it is to be left behind when the tides change. It goes to show how is easy it to be perceived as a hero one minute and a villain the next.