Author Bernardine Evaristo attending a photocall for the 2019 Booker Prize shortlisted authors, at the South Bank centre in London. Picture date: Sunday October 13, 2019. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics

Bernardine Evaristo's Booker Prize-winning hymn to togetherness

Perhaps only the stoniest reader could fail to bask in the celebratory glow of Girl, Woman, Other
December 6, 2019

Joint winner of the Booker Prize with Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, this joyful comic tapestry of black British life follows 11 characters in the orbit of Amma, a veteran fringe playwright belatedly tasting mainstream approval when her show about “lesbian warriors” in precolonial Benin opens at the National Theatre.

Ranging from 1905 to 2017, from Aberdeen to Cornwall, Africa to the Caribbean, the book unfolds as a string of survivors’ success stories, each given equal weight. Carole, raised on an estate in Peckham, earns a place at Oxford and becomes a City executive; her classmate LaTisha, a supermarket worker with children by three different fathers, starts studying for A levels in the evenings.

The novel draws energy less from how the characters interact than from how their stories shed light on one another. The cut-up prose supplies good punchlines, and there’s a rich vein of warm-hearted scepticism: when Amma’s old ally, Sylvester, accuses her of “selling out to middle-class bastards,” we’re told straightaway that he’s secretly maintained by his father, a retired banker in the Home Counties.

Although the narrative isn’t short on strife—at one point there’s a woman whose husband starts sleeping with her mother— it generally takes the form of backstory recounted from the vantage point of hardwon equilibrium: an approach clearest in the chapter on Morgan (once Megan), a gender-free Twitter influencer whose followers include Amma’s daughter Yazz, who winds up her mum by saying that feminism is passé in a non-binary era.

A hymn to togetherness, it might sound like having to eat your greens, but the rapidfire style creates an experience closer to a sugar rush. Perhaps only the stoniest reader could fail to bask in the book’s celebratory glow, even if there’s ultimately something a little frictionless about the way it upends conservative notions of race and gender