Girl, Woman, Other
Bernadine Evaristo’s eighth novel is a trans-generational history of womanhood, told through the personal stories of 12 interconnected characters, most of whom are black women. Their lives are connected both directly and peripherally, creating a rich and complex tapestry of shared and diverging experiences, prejudices, politics, and successes. Her characters engage in an expanding debate about race, gender, and feminism, and what it means to be a woman in the past and present. For the reader, this can be an enlightening, frustrating, contradictory, and incisive journey, particularly for those of us who have isolated ourselves from the margins of society.
However, while Evaristo’s meditations on identity can be insightful, at the same time her narratives are surprisingly naive; characters faced with horrific circumstances (rape, abuse, alienation, addiction) are able to overcome these quite abruptly, without adequate exploration of their traumas, and achieve extraordinary success. In fact, all of the characters are lauded for their exceptional intelligence, talents, and ambition, which frankly becomes exasperating, and ultimately tedious. The book walks a fine line between idealism and delusion, and Evaristo’s characters are protected by her ideology and never transmute into convincing, compelling, admiral, or visceral protagonists. While the message of the book is positive and well-intentioned, the execution often feels adolescent and schematic, despite flashes of deep wisdom.
Words: Hayley Carr