Girl, Woman, Other explores black female identities in modern Britain. This doesn’t do the book justice, but it’s the core strand connecting the twelve intersecting characters that Evaristo develops across the book’s twelve chapters.
And her development of these characters is impressive. Evaristo has real craft in her use of voice. While the novel remains structurally similar throughout (all first person narrative with a different narrator each chapter, all narration presented largely without punctuation, instead using line breaks to follow lines of thought, four sets of three chapters that tightly connect within the cluster and loosely connect without) each character’s voice is unique.
I used the term ‘black female identities’ at the start deliberately: Evaristo makes clear there is no single ‘identity’ attached to gender and race. Each character is unique and their personal history, family, class identity, friendships and aspirations all lead them to where they are. I was reminded of David Szalay’s All That Man Is, shortlisted in 2016, which set out to accomplish something similar with male identity. I liked, but had reservations about, Szalay’s book. I was genuinely impressed by Evaristo’s.
Which isn’t to say Girl, Woman, Other is without its flaws. Some characters are much better developed than others and at least one fell completely flat for me. But these felt like minor quibbles over what otherwise is a valuable novel, and one definitely worth your time.