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Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other: is it worth the record-breaking win?

By Aimee Miller Oct 26, 2019

When the judges announced a shock joint winner for this year’s Booker Prize, I had high expectations.

With Margaret Atwood’s novel already declared as a sure winner, I made a beeline for Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, eager to explore the novel that had made the Booker Prize judges break their very own rules.

Evaristo’s 452-page novel follows 12 interconnected characters, most of whom are black, British and female, as they narrate their way through love, loss, life, race, gender, feminism, youth, age and so much more.

Girl, Woman, Other has literary expertise and a poetic-like form of spoken word storytelling that drags the reader along as if we’re not allowed to put the book down.

The linguistic style of the book plays with experimentation; Evaristo blurs the lines between the first and third-person point of view, switching back and forth in a poetic rhythm and beat, without a clear distinction between speech or narration.

That being said, while the book succeeds in its lyrical structure, it falls short when further developing the individual characters.

We are left speeding through chapters, and the moment the reader switches to another woman, we are left wanting more, feeling let down with unfinished results.

It’s difficult to tell whether Evaristo is criticising the feminist youth of today or whether she’s preaching to the older generation feminists to embrace their grassroots ways.

“We should celebrate that many more women are reconfiguring feminism and that grassroots activism is spreading like wildfire and millions of women are waking up to the possibility of taking ownership of our world as full-entitled human beings.”

But perhaps the dislike and discomfort I felt with Yazz was due to the reflection I saw in her of myself. The naive and childish, almost privileged way of her feminist rights might have struck too close to home.

She made me think: ‘Do I sound this way when I preach to my mum?’

I found the men of the book two dimensional, slightly cliché in their misogyny, womanising ways and homosexual characteristics.

But is this not a book about women?

Herstory, as the book pointedly makes, should outweigh the male characters, giving more depth to the struggle and love these women go through.

The book was disappointing; starting so energised by the form only to be let down by the characters who mean most to the book.

While the story and characters were repetitive and underdeveloped, the lyrical structure is the element that elevates this book into the Booker Prize title.

The characters should have been the driving force to excel the narrative along, but the Evaristo relied too heavily on the structure and lyrical tones.

And while I praise Evaristo for the refreshing tone the structure brings, I feel that the novel does not deserve the Booker title for just the form alone.

By Aimee Miller

Chief sub-editor at The River writing about all things books, reviews & north-east Asia. Say hi on Twitter or email me!

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