Finding Yourself in Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I may be one of the last people to read Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other; but I am not the last to appreciate the timelessness of Evaristo’s writing.

The novel was everywhere after the Black Lives Matter movement emerged in May, but I somehow failed to get my hands on a copy. And I regret that I waited so long to do so.

Evaristo’s characters are cleverly interwoven and linked to each other’s lives. Each chapter provides a glimpse into what woman would tell their story next. After the first couple of chapters, I was trying to determine who would fit into the trio: girl, woman, other, and who would appear in the next. The structure was genius.

The novel explored issues, more subtle and niche issues, surrounding race, gender and sexuality. The array of characters helped to develop many perspectives and showed that these issues are not just black and white. They are unique for every individual.

However, an underlying theme that I found throughout the novel was the notion of finding yourself. Each character begins with a troubled start, and even lives the majority of their life with trouble. But, by the end, they discover the true nature of themselves. Undefined by gender, race or sexuality.

Each character works hard. Their jobs range from business-workers to supermarket workers. Their jobs don’t seem to matter though, they’re all striving towards the same end: freedom. Freedom from the society they have long been repressed by. They simply want to be content with who they are. But in their position, this cannot be done without hard work.

The quote “and if it isn’t related to work, it’s not worth reading” struck me hard when I came across it. It was an idea I had held for so long, particularly destroyed by the dominant idea last year that hustle culture was toxic. But, what was the point in reading something that was not going to benefit me in some way?

Maybe this was true for some people. For those who had their future handed to them. But, for the characters in Evaristo’s novel, they don’t have the choice to do nothing. They have to hustle to reach a state where they can be free, comfortable and content.

Sometimes this state seems so far away- impossible. So “dreaming wasn’t naive but essential for survival, dreaming was the equivalent of hoping on a large scale, utopias were unachievable ideal by definition”.

Without dreams, there is no possibility of navigating your way through life. You will remain stationary in a life that makes you miserable. And dreaming provides a bit of medication to ease the current suffering. But, once the dream is met, you’re life will be worth living.

This could apply to many things. But, as a white woman, I associate this with gender. I often have to dream of where I want to be in the future because it seems almost impossible in today current society. And I can only imagine it is ten times more difficult for women of colour.

So it is so important that “everyday one grows a little, everyday something is different, so that in the heaping of days suddenly a thing that was impossible has become possible. This is how a girl becomes a woman. Step by step until it is one”. 

Every day I have to dream. I have to work. I have to hustle to pave a road to an at least tolerable future.

Evaristo’s shift from girl to a woman could be the movement from youth to adulthood. A sudden realisation or responsibility. But, I see it as an achievement of respect.

A girl is associated with being young, weak and submissive. This is how we are currently viewed and treated in society. We cannot be paid the same because we are not mature enough to earn that money. We are not strong enough because we cannot work through the pains of menstruation. And we cannot work for long enough because we want to continue playing dollies.

Whereas, being a woman suggests a new form of respect has emerged. You are not recognised for your gender, at least not as much. Just for the physical, indifferent difference. You can do what a man does, better even. You don’t have to worry about words being hurtled at you across the street because you have achieved what you were supposed to. It just requires a lot more extra work because society chucked hurdles in the way.

Girl, Woman, Other provided me with friends, with allies, and with a strong determination to ensure that nothing stopped me from fulfilling my potential.

10/01/21

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