This is not so much a novel as a commitment. There are a lot of lives here and they all ask you to take the time to read, to listen, to understand. Don’t skimp on this book. Don’t try to squeeze it in with quick gulps when your mind is elsewhere.
I found the level of intimacy from strangers a bit overwhelming to begin with. These are straight talking and honest women sharing their experiences from a cross-section of black Britain. They take you right into the living room and sit you down. There are twelve main characters who tell their stories in separate chapters, up and down the generations and all loosely linked. The bunch is tied together at the end in a party.
First thing, though, is to get into the writing style. There’s not a lot of punctuation. Not every sentence starts with a capital and some run on for a very long time, like a breathless friend who has so much to tell you. When the narrator pauses for a breath, Evaristo starts again on a new line. This initially frustrated me and I almost gave up until I began to feel the rhythm. Then I absolutely loved it. This is exactly how such personal stories should be told. I felt the narrators whispering in my ear. It’s brilliant.
The characters are diverse. Amma is the one who stands out for me: a hard-partying lesbian playwright, who “spent decades on the fringe, a renegade lobbing hand grenades at the establishment that excluded her until the mainstream began to absorb what was once radical and she found herself hopeful”. Her oldest school friend Shirley is a conservative, jaded teacher who links to a high flying former student and also a fellow teacher with an unexpected link to the black community and both a 93 year old northern farmer and her savvy non-binary descendant. Amma’s friend Dominique succumbs to a controlling witch while daughter Yazz throws life around with her bunch of mates, The Unfuckwithables. There is quite a lot of disturbing pain and hurt which initially seemed a bit clichéd but there’s a point there: clichés are made from common experiences and this particular community has suffered more than their share of these kinds of abuses.
The thing I love most about this book is its loose-jointed jingling vibrancy. The characters, the stories, and the writing is so lively the books almost jumps about in your hands.
Girl, Woman, Other.
Buy it, read it, share it.