A surprise co-winner of this year’s Booker Prize (she shares it with Margaret Atwood, only the third time that’s happened in the award’s 50-year-history), Bernardine Evaristo may not be a household name, but Girl deserves every accolade, and more: Her sixth novel is a creative and technical marvel — a sprawling account of 12 interconnected females (some young, some old, one non-binary; hence the title) in modern-day Britain.
Radical lesbian playwrights and fierce nonagenarian homesteaders; glossy-haired bankers and ground-down cleaning ladies; rebellious teenagers and retired housewives: They all come together in a book so bursting with wit, empathy, and insight, it can rarely pause to take a breath, let alone break a paragraph (or at least put a full stop at the end of one).
Nearly all of the protagonists in its wildly kaleidoscopic survey of nearly a century of womanhood are black or brown, living out their lives on the less-visible fringes of England’s technically invisible but still intransigent caste system.
But their paths ahead are hardly circumscribed by race or class or color: Amma is the playwright, long proudly anti-establishment, who gets the opportunity to put on a piece at the very center of bourgeois London theater; Yazz is her teenage daughter by donor sperm, an extravagantly self-aware millennial with a multi-cult squad she calls the Unf*ckwithables; financial officer Carole’s sleek figure and streamlined apartment defy her origins in public housing, her Nigerian mother — and most importantly, the brutal sexual assault that defined her adolescence.
Other indelible characters, all plugged into Evaristo’s ever-expanding web, come and go within Girl‘s pages, each one immediately, recognizably human but still somehow far from archetype. Maybe the book’s most ingenious trick, though, is that its reflections on race and feminism hardly ever feel like polemics; there’s just too much pure vivid life on every page. A–
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