To my shame, this is the first of Evaristo’s novels that I’ve read. It won’t be the last, however. I’m sometimes cautious about Booker winners – I fear that they’ll be a bit worthy (and this is coming from someone who tries to read the shortlist every year). I think I’ve been scarred by one or years of heavy-going literary reads which left me cold – I’m principally looking at you, 2012 and 2016.
I’d already read and loved Evaristo’s co-winner’s The Testaments. But that win almost felt like an inevitability. This book was something else entirely; it’s jam-packed with memorable characters (the doughty Hattie is my favourite, btw) and the focus is very much on identity and belonging to someone or someplace. Her decision to look at lives across generations gives us personal histories in a national context.
The tone is often deceptively light, meaning that points and observations about race land very effectively. Old friends Amma and Dominique met as young black feminist actors. After years of being on the outside, Amma is now an acclaimed writer and director, and her play is on at the National.
‘at times like these Amma misses Dominique, who long ago absconded to America
they should be sharing her breakthrough career moment together
they met in the eighties at an audition for a feature film set in a women’s prison (what else?)
both were disillusioned at being put up for parts such as a slave, servant, prostitute, nanny or crim
and still not getting the job’
Broken into sections, we meet three characters at a time. Richly diverse in background and identity, all are navigating their way through relationships in a Britain which, it is very evident, still has a long way to go in terms of equality for marginalised groups. Evaristo moves between characters at a rapid pace. The effect is to see both the connections and the differences very quickly. And that’s my only complaint – I would love to spend a bit more time with characters like Hattie.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved The Testaments, and it was a joy to see the Booker judges flouting the rules and awarding the prize to two women writers. But this is the more exciting novel in terms of style. Now it’ll be interesting to see how it fares in the Women’s Prize shortlist. Hamnet is going to provide a stiff challenge but I can quite see Girl, Woman, Other seeing off other competition.