I’m absolutely in love with Evaristo’s writing style. I’m not usually one for experimental fiction, it tends to lay too heavy on the “experiment” and not enough on the “fiction.” And, truthfully, the next book on my reading list was Chen Qiufan’s book Waste Tide. I had just finished A nonfiction book, The Ungrateful Refugee, and as it was the last library book I had checked out, I was ready to move onto the collection of books I had bought and was waiting to tuck in to*.
I returned Nayeri’s book and was going to get started on Waste Tide when I spotted the display for the Man Booker 2019 prize winners. Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other were displayed side by side and I kind of groaned internally, because I knew I had to read them**. I couldn’t (and can’t) read The Testaments because I haven’t finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale, and I refuse to read the second book before finishing the first. So, I picked up Girl, Woman, Other and had a quick read of the first few pages.
The style is not one that I expected to like. At first glance, I immediately clocked Evaristo’s book as experimental fiction, given the lack of terminal punctuation (namely periods) and the constant breaking-up of action. I grit my teeth and turned to the first page of the first chapter and began reading. And I couldn’t stop.
Even though I’m not a big experimental fiction reader, I really love Evaristo’s cadence and style and her method of narration. The action continues to flow; there is never a moment of stagnation or pause. Foregoing flowery description and excessive detail, Evaristo includes only what is necessary and then pushes the story right along.
Though it may seem against all writer’s workshop advice to just “say what’s happening,” it really works, and Evaristo makes it work. It does seem entirely effortless, however, that she just started writing and kept going until the book was finished. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case. And I am really drawn to this method of storytelling. Enamored as I am with more literary pieces (such as Donna Tart’s The Secret History,) this as-is style is really appealing and it works for Evaristo’s novel.
The focus of Girl, Woman, Other, as I’ve seen so far, is to tell stories of the aforementioned epithets, and have them be just as engaging and interesting as any Homeric male-centric novel. These women are largely people of color and largely queer. Their stories are vibrant, detailed, and life-like without being overly wordy (though I would read stories of novel length about each of these women individually.)
And the struggles each woman experiences are valuable; Evaristo shows that not all queer relationships are perfect (such as Dominique’s submissive relationship to Nzinga) and that people of color can still have privilege (such as Nenet’s wealthy and affluent background and ability to pay people to take her exams for her) though not in the ways we might expect.
Evaristo’s diverse cast of characters are truthfully more like people; the stories and the trials that they experience are vivid and life-like and the characters are just as dynamic and varied as in real life. Her contemporary novel is rich and multicultural and gives life to an aspect of queer womanhood that people may have never seen before.
*This includes Quifan’s book Waste Tide, Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and Leigh Bardugo’s The Ninth House
**Being involved in the publishing world entails a lot of current reading, which also involves keeping tabs on longlist and shortlist nominations as well as which books ended up winning. I also knew I had to read them because they’re both reportedly very good books. And who doesn’t love to read good books?