Girl, Woman, Other: A Novel

by Bernardine Evaristo

Hardcover, 2019

Call number

FIC EVA

Collection

Publication

Grove Press, Black Cat (2019), Edition: Later Printing, 464 pages

Description

"Girl, Woman, Other is a celebration of the diversity of Black British experience. Moving, hopeful, and inventive, this extraordinary novel is a vivid portrait of the state of contemporary Britain and the legacy of Britain's colonial history in Africa and the Caribbean. The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London's funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley's former students, works hard to earn a degree from Oxford and becomes an investment banker; Carole's mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter's lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these unforgettable characters also intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class. Sparklingly witty and filled with emotion, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative and fast-moving form that borrows from poetry, Girl, Woman, Other is a polyphonic and richly textured social novel that reminds us of everything that connects us to our neighbors, even in times when we are encouraged to be split apart"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
“...and what with the planet about to go to shit with the United Kingdom soon to be disunited from Europe which itself is hurtling down the reactionary road and making fascism fashionable again and it’s so crazy that the disgusting perma-tanned billionaire has set a new intellectual and moral low by being president of America and basically it all means that the older generation has RUINED EVERYTHING and her generation is doooooomed.”

“to choose such a brutal and dramatic finale Carole knows what drives people to such despair, knows what it’s like to appear normal but to feel herself swaying just one leap away from the amassed crowds on the platforms who carry enough hope in their hearts to stay alive swaying just one leap away from eternal peace.”

I love short fiction and linked stories and this collection, really delivers on both fronts. It follows, twelve different woman, living in England, both in the past and the present. Most are black or mixed race, and the author directs a careful spotlight on each individual, with loving detail. Her writing is a marvel- strong, intelligent and lyrical. It also deals with many of the issues that are plaguing our troubled world.
I adore Margaret Atwood and I enjoyed The Testaments, but Bernadine Evaristo should have been the sole winner of the Booker Prize, in 2019, with this incredible achievement.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Girl, Woman, Other was completely unknown to me until being nominated (and then winning/sharing) the 2019 Booker Prize. And it’s one of the most interesting and inventive books I’ve read this year. Bernardine Evaristo explores the many ways of being a black woman today through twelve memorable characters, each living a very different experience in terms of socioeconomic class, nationality, education, gender identity, sexual freedom, marriage, and so on.

The novel is structured as a set of linked short stories, each describing the life of one woman. The stories are presented in groups of three, with direct connections between those women (e.g.; mother-daughter, or childhood friends). Additional connections emerge as the novel moves towards its conclusion. I was so immersed in the rich detail of each life story, that I didn’t see these additional links until they were made plain, making for many pleasant surprises. The epilogue tied up the one remaining loose end -- that I had completely forgotten about -- in a most satisfying way.
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LibraryThing member mooingzelda
Girl, Woman, Other mesmerised me from the moment I started reading it and is definitely one of my books of the year. It’s such a brilliant, honest portrayal of life in Britain as a woman (or non-binary person, in the case of one character), and especially of the vastly different experiences that women of colour in particular have.

The style – a fusion of poetry and prose – is unusual but highly effective (and I usually find poetry quite difficult to read), as is the structure, with each section focusing on one character and almost being short stories in themselves, despite being part of a narrative that spans the entire book. I felt like I got to know each character inside out as a result. I was still surprised at how emotional I got at the end!

Bernardine Evaristo certainly deserved her Booker win for this. I'm really excited to read more of her work.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
First I will stipulate that I am a cis woman, white, and American. This book is written in the shape of a spiral, circling back on itself repeatedly. In essence, there is not a traditional plot. It is more a collection of character sketches designed to illustrate the impact of race on womanhood. The book contains character descriptions of twelve British black women connected to one another in various ways. I felt that I was being allowed to peek into the inescapable identity search of black women, based on family history, life experiences, socioeconomics, gender, race, and political position. The complex interaction of so many influences result in a multitude of overlapping identities. Being black is the common factor. In all other dimensions the women vary as all women do. Removing race as a factor would result in women as varied and marvelous as all women. However, race cannot be removed, and that is the point. Each character copes with race in differing ways. The author illustrates how significantly black women's lives are affected by the color of their skin.… (more)
LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
The twelve women whose lives constitute the foci, separately, of this novel in parts are all impressive in their own ways. Inevitably some of their stories resonate more than others, or perhaps are written with more passion or empathy. Certainly the central figure, Amma, whose debut play at the National Theatre is the tent peg around which the stories are draped, is a force. Her personality shines whereas some of the latter stories seem almost sketches. Each of their tales concerns what it means to be a woman, typically fracturing along lines of gender identity, race, or political persuasion. The upshot being that there are many possibilities, possibly as many as there are women.

Along with captivating stories of sometimes captivating women, Evaristo sets herself the task of connecting each of them, not necessarily to all of the others, but to enough to form a weave. It’s a structure that has risks since at some point the connection will tend to feel forced, even potentially mawkish. Nevertheless, there is an earnestness in the telling that carries the reader through. And even if none of these women might be exemplars, most, if not all, are certainly memorable.

Neither the formal structure nor the conceit of connectedness are especially original. And yet this novel feels very fresh, almost challenging. Why? I think it’s because Evaristo writes with the assurance of a mature author in full command of her talents. She knows that it is the larger canvas that she wishes to convey, and that any flaws or limitations in the stitching will be nearly imperceptible and in any case forgiven when one stands far enough back in order to take in the whole. Which is a form of writerly wisdom.

I really like Evaristo’s voice and look forward to reading the rest of her oeuvre.

Gently recommended.
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LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
Amazing, beautiful book. Evaristo creates a whole world in these pages. Interconnected short stories come together into something sublime and wonderful.
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
A well deserved winner of the Booker Prize.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Girl, Woman, Other is how Bernardine Evaristo gives a unique voice and perspective to the twelve subjects. Hearing that the story focuses almost entirely women who are black and British, I worried that the author would push a particular perspective or agenda. Certainly, in these interconnected stories, there's bound to be some overlap, but Evaristo really presents a wide spectrum, giving substance to each and every voice regardless of her personal views. This is a skill that needs to be applauded as many talented authors choose not to (or refuse to) implement such diversity in their work.

The structure—a sort of hybrid of prose and poetry—is a little off-putting at first, but quickly becomes natural. The language is gorgeous, but not overly ornate.

The overarching story is masterful in regards to some smaller arcs, but really weak in regards to others. That's perhaps this novel's most notable weakness—if you can call it that. The individual stories are all strong, though. Some of them were particularly moving, but all of them kept my interest.

Girl, Woman, Other is a particularly strong piece of fiction because it gets so much right—it's wise and entertaining, honest and sensitive, sharp and meandering, pause and movement. It may lean towards being driven by character and language, but it is quite well balanced with story. I doubt that I'll read this novel again (as re-reads are vary rare in my world), but it's certainly one that I'd consider giving another look in the distant future. I feel like this novel would only improve with a subsequent, more focused reading.

Advanced Reader Copy provided through Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This novel explores what it means to be black and a woman in Britain. Beginning with Amma, a lesbian theater director and activist, each chapter focuses on a new character, each connected in some way to the other characters in the novel. So Amma's story is followed by her daughter's, then a friend's, then a girl she knew at school, spiraling outward before settling in to following the family history of Morgan, a young woman not entirely comfortable in her body, and reaching back through time to eventually tell the story of her great-grandmother, a Yorkshire farmer.

I was ready to abandon the novel halfway through the third chapter, as each character became more obsessed with their image, but Evaristo then set that on its head, even as each woman has to consciously decide how she will present herself to the world. I ended up fascinated by each woman's story and how they all fit together. The final part, where all the contemporary women are in the same space, is less satisfying than the previous part, where generations of a single family are followed in reverse chronological order, but I appreciated getting to see how each woman was viewed by others. I do like the format Evaristo used of a series of short stories about women with varying degrees of proximity.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
I hardly know what to say about this wonderful book. Mostly, I just want to say "Read it". This book co-won the Booker Prize in 2019 along with Margaret Atwood's The Testaments. Having read The Testaments I was curious to see what this book was like although I doubted if it could be as good as Atwood's follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale. I was wrong. It is every bit as interesting, well-written and illuminating as The Testaments.

Evaristo, daughter of a black Nigerian father and a white British mother, certainly knows the challenges black women face. She shows us the lives of 12 different women living in Britain from the late 1800s and on into the present. Many of them, like herself, had one black parent and one white parent. Many live in London but others lived in rural areas of Northern England. Evaristo first introduces us to Amma, a playwright and theatre producer, who finally has a play being performed at the National Theatre when she is in her 50s. Amma is a lesbian with a considerable array of former lovers and at least two current girlfriends. She is the mother of Yazz who is now attending university who was fathered by a gay male friend. Amma is sort of the linchpin that connects all the rest of the women in the book. We meet her daughter, her best friend, a childhood friend who is now a teacher, the friend of that childhood friend who is also a teacher, a student of that childhood friend and so on. After meeting and learning about the lives of these other eleven women (pay attention when reading about their lives because they do reappear) we return to the aftershow party at the National Theatre where Amma's play has been given rave reviews. It's a triumph and a vindication for Amma. Most of the attendees are thrilled for her but some experience more problematic emotions. Amma's success makes them wonder about their own lives.

Evaristo was recently interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel on CBC Radio's Writers and Company. Wachtel asked lots of personal questions which Evaristo answered quite candidly and at the end Evaristo said she had enjoyed the interview because Wachtel asked lots of questions that made her really think about her motives in writing this book. I think there is a lot of Evaristo in this book which perhaps is what makes it so brilliant.
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LibraryThing member JosephCamilleri
In my off-line life, I write a lot of technical stuff where clarity is of overriding importance. Short sentences are better than long-winding ones. Punctuation should be used wherever needed. Grammatical rules should be observed.

Unsurprisingly, when I realised that the lack of full stops and commas in Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker-prize winning novel was no technical glitch in my Kindle file but part-and-parcel of the reading experience, my linguistically-rigid self was sorely tempted to put the (e-)book down. My cynical persona was also quick to chip in and mischievously suggest that, to be considered for a literary award these days, a novel should:

(i) avoid the use of punctuation and traditional sentences and

(ii) proclaim itself as woke from the outset, in this case by featuring as protagonist of the very first chapter an Anglo-African feminist lesbian playwright

A few pages into Girl, Woman, Other however, these dissenting voices were laid to rest. Evaristo adopts an adventurous approach but is, at heart, a masterful storyteller. In this work she presents us with twelve tales about twelve British women, one identifying as non-binary, all of whom have African roots and/or connections. Each of the individual stories could potentially be a self-standing novella.

When the reader takes a step back, Evaristo’s skill in structuring her novel becomes readily apparent. The stories, linked in four related groups/chapters of three, all result to be, in some way or another, intertwined. They are framed by a specific event, the premiere of Amma’s feminist play at the National Theatre. At the end, we discover an unexpected coda which ties up a few remaining loose ends and provides an almost old-fashionedly satisfying conclusion.

As for the women’s stories themselves, Evaristo commented as follows in a recent interview for the Guardian:

I wanted to put presence into absence. I was very frustrated that black British women weren’t visible in literature. I whittled it down to 12 characters – I wanted them to span from a teenager to someone in their 90s, and see their trajectory from birth, though not linear. There are many ways in which otherness can be interpreted in the novel – the women are othered in so many ways and sometimes by each other. I wanted it to be identified as a novel about women as well.

Indeed, I felt that the theme of the “Other” is central to the novel. The structural complexity of the Evaristo’s work mirrors the complexity of interactions in the contemporary world. The “black British womenhood” alluded to by the author is not a monolithic structure, but more of a colourful tapestry or mosaic. The novel’s choral approach is eminently suited to portray this. In this respect, Girl, Woman, Other is not just a good, but, even, a necessary novel.
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LibraryThing member Zoes_Human
This work of contemporary, realistic fiction uses prose written in a poetic structure to immerse us in the experiences, complexities, struggles, and lives of twelve people. Each character is written in the glorious fullness of their humanity with empathy and compassion for flaws and strengths alike. These twelve discreetly intertwined narratives come together to weave a novel in the shape of Black British womanhood—from the tragic to the mundane to the triumphant. This masterpiece is an ode to the diverse yet united experiences of Anglo-African women.

Between the incredibly innovative storytelling style, the rawly honest characters, and the compelling narrative, this is easily the best book of 2019.
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LibraryThing member SandDune
I think I'm going to feel quite guilty about my review of this one. Everyone else seems to love it - the number of five star reviews it has is very high indeed - but while I enjoyed it I can't say that I consistently loved it. In my defence, my reaction was negatively impacted by the narration of the audio book. The narration was flat throughout with some weird mispronunciations of certain words, (and some people on Audible were very sceptical about the quality of the Nigerian and Caribbean accents) but for me the trouble really started when the scene changed from London to the North of England. Rather than the characteristic accents of Newcastle and Northumbria we had girls raised by a single mother in a one-room slum in South Shields sounding as if they were in a tea party in Surrey, and if there was an attempt at an accent at all it sounded more London than anything. I just found it so distracting and unconvincing! But back to the actual book...

[Girl, Woman, Other] takes the lives of twelve black British women and melds them into a narrative stretching back to the nineteenth century. They all have very different life experiences: from the lesbian playwright in her fifties who feels she has finally made it when her play is put on at the National, to the Nigerian immigrant with a mathematics degree who came to the U.K. for a better life but never made it beyond her cleaning business, to her daughter who has reinvented herself as an upwardly mobile banker in the City, to a Northumbrian farmer descended from an Abyssinian sailor. As the narrative progresses, the links between the seemingly disparate characters become more obvious and I loved the way that their stories intertwined. All the women face issues of racism, sexism and class, and deal with them in varying ways. And as the narrative followed a mother, a daughter, a friend, the different perspectives of the same events which developed gave a very three dimensional picture of the women's lives.

Apart from the narrator I had two main caveats. Firstly, I feel that the author was less successful in the Northumbrian element of the story when the narrative stretched back into the nineteenth century. I didn't get a feeling for the earlier time period that rang true with me at all. Secondly, especially towards the end, there did seem to be a number of speeches given to the characters that I could not imagine anyone actually uttering in real life, although to be fair that might have been the narration, and they may have read better on the page.

I may well give this a reread when it is out in paperback as I do feel that my enjoyment was marred by the audio production. Even with a better narrator, it would probably have worked better on the page, as it is a complex book with numerous characters who disappear and reappear and the ability to look back and check on past events would have been very useful!

I have Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo on my kindle and I shall certainly get around to reading that in the not too distant future.
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LibraryThing member devilish2
Multiple very loosely intertwined stories of women and their lives. Extraordinarily well told.
LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This book was the Booker Prize Winner for 2019 along with Margret Atwood(co-share, a Booker First). Having read both books, I must say that this was vastly superior. The was a great book. The story is about 12 women who share a British connection as well as that of mostly black women of various sexual, political, cultural, economic, and you name it classifications. As a white heterosexual male, it was illuminating and educational. Evaristo covered large time frames and showed the connections between the characters. Her prose style took a while to get used to but did not interfere with the story. I found each of the characters interesting and though the stories really showed the difficulty of being a woman in Britain in a man's world there were elements of humor. You may not agree with the viewpoint of the characters but there is no denying the reality of the experiences and how difficult the world was for these women to navigate. This is the best book I have read this year. For me, it was a must read.… (more)
LibraryThing member kayanelson
2020 TOB--This is a book like no other I've read. In a way it's a series of short stories that link together via a common character(s). The stories address being black, being lesbian, other LGBTQ issues and being female. And it was all done well.

The writing style was a poetic prose--sounds odd but it flowed well.

The issues discussed are really the point of the book rather than the stories of the characters who were all very interesting people.

The Epilogue surprised me.

Read this book.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
Finished Girl, Woman, Other which I quite enjoyed. The author uses 12 different characters to weave together a story about black British women, from 18 to 98. Written without punctuation in what almost seems like verse, the stories were wonderful characterizations which provided plenty of historical information of the black experience. The novel also shows the extreme diversity of London which was fun for me since I recently visited and loved the city. This novel won the Booker Prize this year and well deserved the recognition. The best part of this novel is the writing and I'll dedicate some review space to provide a flavor of the characters presented:

Dominique
"she was über-cool, totally gorgeous, taller than most women, thinner than most women, with cut-glass cheekbones and smoky eyes with thick black lashes that literally cast a shadow on her face"

Amma
"Amma was shorter, with African hips and thighs perfect slave girl material one director told her when she walked into an audition for a play about Emancipation"

Yazz
"Mum, Yazz said at fourteen when she was pitching to go to Reading Music Festival with her friends, it would be to the detriment of my juvenile development if you curtailed my activities at this critical stage in my journey towards becoming the independent-minded and fully self-expressed adult you expect me to be, I mean, do you really want me rebelling against your old-fashioned rules by running away from the safety of my home to live on the streets and having to resort to prostitution to survive and thereafter drug addiction, crime, anorexia and abusive relationships with exploitative bastards twice my age before my early demise in a crack house?"

it’s unfortunate that she’s coming of age as one of the Swipe-Like-Chat-Invite-Fuck Generation where men expect you to give it up on the first (and only) date, have no pubic hair at all, and do the disgusting things they’ve seen women do in porn movies on the internet

Latisha
"the truth Jayla, your father is a previous boyfriend of mine called Jimmi who turned violent, when he tried to throw me down the stairs, I caught the train from Liverpool to London that evening he never knew I was carrying his child and I’ve not seen him since she fell for Glenmore in the last weeks of her pregnancy he said he’d love the child as his own"

Penelope
"Penelope wanted to embrace self-love and self-acceptance getting rid of the full-length mirrors in her home was a good start"

Megan/Morgan
"and Megan was a woman who wondered if she should have been born a man, who was attracted to a woman who’d once been a man, who was now saying gender was full of misguided expectations anyway, even though she had herself transitioned from male to female"

Hattie
"Walking barefoot:it’s one of the secrets of her long-lasting mobility, keeping her toes spread and feet grounded, same as all the other beasts of nature hooves, that’s what she’s got hooves"

Amma's opinion about her favorite foreign films might well be the summary of what she is doing in her novel:
‘the best films are about expanding our understanding of what it means to be human, they’re a journey into pushing the boundaries of form, an adventure beyond the clichés of commercial cinema, an expression of our deeper consciousness’
Highly recommend the experience of reading Bernadine Evaristo's latest.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
This novel captured my attention from the first page and never let go. Told in a series of vignettes, each focusing on a different woman, with a narrative style that straddles prose and poetry, it is a rich, funny, poignant, and honest exploration of identity, gender, race, culture, family, belonging, and love. The stories are individual but they also intersect, sometimes in surprising ways. The characters' unique voices are overridden by the persistent narrative style but they still emerge as complex human beings with virtues and faults and foibles. Near the end I worried that Evaristo was about to blow it with too much coincidence (the after-party almost lost her a half-star) but she resisted the temptation and delivered a perfect finale.… (more)
LibraryThing member rayski
12 women with rich histories, strong characters but with their own flaws and secrets. Each character is covered in her own chapter which is short story onto itself. The stories were very enjoyable, made you think and really appreciate how much you don't know what it's like to be living in the skins of other people, races, gender, etc. It really woke me up to the difficulty for some people to just be themselves and the ridicule they receive for being nothing other than who they are. That was the good part of the book. The part I found frustrating is how these characters would tie together, often Chapter N person would disappear and reappear in Chapter N+3 person and heck I couldn't remember who was who and what was their story. When you're free time reader, maybe an hour a day if I'm lucky, it's really hard to remember characters who disappear for 3, 4 days of my reading and all of a sudden appear. Who was this again? What's her story? I felt I needed to dedicate more time to read the book through without interruptions of daily life. Maybe a summer holiday book when I can bang it out in 2-3 days. Over 3 weeks was difficult to keep it sorted out.… (more)
LibraryThing member Slevyr26
I was all ready to give this a solid four stars but then the magicienne that is Bernardine Evaristo caught me in my feelings in the Epilogue and damned if this isn't a full five star read.

What a treasure of a book.

Black womxn and their stories and their existences MATTER.
LibraryThing member alexrichman
A bit disappointing, to be honest. Like The Overstory, we have a huge cast of connected characters - but this compares pretty poorly. The individuals themselves are rarely very interesting, and often too similar to each other. It's strongest on feminism but weakest on trans issues, completely avoiding the incredibly fertile (sorry) ground of TERF wars but for a few throwaway sentences. Good in flashes but surprised by the Booker judges' love for this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
“Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.” The stories are intertwined and the women make appearances in each other’s stories.
Each chapter of this powerful and beautiful novel is from a different woman’s prospective. It begins with the story of Amma. After a lifetime of trying, Alma is finally about to present her play about black lesbians in an esteemed theatre with a big audience. Alma considers herself “wonderful, artistic, highly individualistic and rebellious.” Her daughter Yazz calls her a “feminazi.”
The book goes on to explore the lives and struggles of woman from all different backgrounds and ages groups. Dominique is Amma’s best friend who falls into an abusive relationship with another woman. Shirley is Amma’s uptight, prim and proper friend from childhood who begins her role of a school teacher feeling that “the pressure is on to be a great teacher and an ambassador for every black person in the world.” She believes educators have the power to change lives. One such promising student that Shirley takes under her wing is Carole. Carole was determined to “fly above and beyond” her poor family and upbringing. She made herself over in college to become successful. Carole’s mother Bummi was an immigrant and she feels that Carole is “rejecting her true culture,” when she marries a white man. Lakisha used be a friend of Carole’s before Carole decided to better herself. Lakisha’s dad walked out on their family when she was young and now she has three kids of her own that “will grow up with no fathers in their lives.”
Megan is struggling with gender identity. Penelope found out she was adopted at age sixteen and has felt “unwanted, rejected, unmoored and undone” ever since. There are a few other stories I didn’t mention. Near the end of the book I felt like we could have done without a few of them. A lot of the characters show up in the end to see Amma’s play. It was interesting and clever the way the author brought them all together.
This book was lovely and poetic and the author clearly deserved the Booker Prize she received for this book. The novel addresses what it means to be a woman. It says a lot about feminism, lesbianism and racism. It deals with a lot of tough topics as these women struggle with their hopes and dreams, finding love, motherhood, family issues and the need to be respected as black women.
“We all just wanna be ourselves and make sure we’re okay in the world.”
“Millions of women are waking up to the possibility of taking ownership of our world as fully-entitled human beings.”
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LibraryThing member lesleynicol
I thought that this book really deserved its Booker prize.
LibraryThing member hatpin
This is a fine series of stories of lives, mostly of Londoners of a type that I recognise as my neighbours. I don't think the jacket copy of "This is Britain as you've never read it" is deserved or a helpful description.
LibraryThing member davidroche
Delighted and awed to have read the winner of the Booker Prize this year, Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton), written by the wonderfully talented author Bernardine Evaristo.
LibraryThing member mojomomma
Role of women of all types in 20th century Great Britain. Exploration of their role in society, break throughs and struggles. Lots of connections between characters.

Pages

464

ISBN

0802156983 / 9780802156983
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