Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood
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.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
Girl, Woman, Other is a book club pick that I had wanted to read for ages, and was so pleased to have a prompt to finally give this a go – and it proved to be a resounding hit from all our members.
The novel tells the story of twelve characters, many of whom are Black, British and linked in some way. The way that the novel flows from person to person is brilliant; it never feels jarring but at times does almost feel like a collection of ‘short stories’ because, despite most of them being black, British females, they each have such different experiences and lives. I liked this though, despite not usually reading a lot of short stories; it felt like the reader is allowed into the lives of each person for a snapshot of their life – or, in the case of some characters (like Hattie), for a time period spanning much more of their life.
The writing felt a bit strange at first; as a reader of mostly novels I was taken aback by the style – it’s a flowing, poetic format that lacks punctuation so I worried at first that I wasn’t going to be able to get into it like I could with a traditional novel. However, I soon got used to it (and many other members of the book group felt the same) and found it actually makes you really feel like you’re in the mind of that particular character.
Some serious and important issues are addressed throughout the book: race, gender, relationships, sexuality, sexual assault, the education system, family life and much more. However, it never felt like the author shoehorned these themes in. Rather, they seemed to occur naturally in line with each character, and we all enjoyed (or, considering the content, perhaps ‘enjoyed’ is the wrong word – but we found it interesting) learning about some historical moments and issues that we perhaps didn’t know a lot about before.
The women’s stories are moving and compelling. There are no chapters from a male perspective, although we learn more about the father of Yazz, Amma’s daughter, towards the end, and it doesn’t feel like the novel is at all lacking for the absence of male voices. I loved the very last few pages and, although I didn’t feel like I ‘couldn’t put this novel down’ as such (it didn’t grip me the way other books have), I still found it to be a very engaging and intriguing read, and a very powerful one too.