Tag Archives: Bernadine Evaristo

Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other

Bernadine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other (2019, Penguin 2020)

Frank Moorhouse described his early books as ‘discontinuous narratives’. They were collections of short stories whose characters and situations overlapped, but lacked a narrative through-line. In the half-century since those books were published, discontinuity has become much more commonplace in novels, and it’s probably only because Moorhouse recently died that Girl, Woman, Other put me in mind of his term.

The bulk of the book consists of four sets of three short stories. In each set the stories are about three women who are closely related (in one case, two women and a gender-nonspecific person who was assigned female at birth). The main characters are all Black (though some pass for white), and most of them are part of the LGBTQI+ community. They are mothers and daughters, lovers and friends, teacher and students, activists and cancel culture warriors, a playwright, a farmer, a merchant banker. The action mostly happens in England, in the context of feminist and Black liberation movements from the 1960s to the present day. Once you get used to the regular sudden changes in place, time, point of view and voice, the effect is exhilarating.

Of the final two chapters, the first provides a kind of narrative resolution when many of the characters turn up for an event foreshadowed in the first section. So technically the narrative isn’t totally discontinuous in Moorhouse’s sense, but the event is transparently a device to allow characters from different stories to run into each other rather than a real climax. The final section seems to go off in a whole new direction by telling the story of one of the book’s incidental white women characters, only to twist that story back into another narrative strand, to end with a moment that is no less emotionally satisfying for being utterly implausible.

I just read someone online saying they’d heard that ‘the text lacks punctuation’, so they chose to listen to it rather than read it. Well, I’m not saying they were wrong to listen, but the absence of quote marks and full stops – to be precise, the use of full stops only for the ends of sections – is not the annoyance you might expect. Evaristo uses line breaks as a form of punctuation: the meaning is always clear, there’s plenty of white space on the page, and the narrative flows beautifully. I for one was happily seduced.

Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman

Bernadine Evaristo, Mr Loverman (Penguin 2013)

Bernadine Evaristo won the 2019 Booker Prize for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. Mr Loverman doesn’t have such a weighty status, but it’s wonderful. The narrator, Barrington Jedidiah Walker is seventy-four (same age as me, which may be why the book was insistently recommended to me), living unhappily married in London. It’s 2010 and he has been in love with his friend Morris since they were children, and having an active, clandestine sexual relationship with him.

He’s a great character, and the story of his coming out – a term he dislikes – is told with enormous charm and energy, in language inflected with the rhythms of his native Antigua and filled with sparkling wordplay.

While our sympathies are firmly with Barry, the book doesn’t let us forget how badly his deception has affected his wife and daughters. The ending is almost Shakespearean in the way it ties off everything in neat bows. Speaking of Shakespeare, the largely self-educated Barry loves to quote the Bard, to terrific effect and in my case a serendipitous similarity to the last novel I read, also by an English of African heritage.


No reflection on the books, but my blog posts for the next couple of weeks will be short and – hopefully – to the point. I don’t imagine an explanation is needed but it’s summer-time, my extended family are in Christmas–New Year mode, the Emerging Artist and I will soon be crossing state borders to spend a couple of weeks away, and on top of all that I’ve got a very painful hamstring (don’t ask!) and a non-Covid coronavirus infection.