“Privilege is about context and circumstance”
I have to admit that I had not heard of Bernardine Evaristo before she won last year’s Booker Prize together with Margaret Atwood. Once the shortlist was published I was rooting for Atwood because I had read and loved her nominated book The Testaments. It was very exciting when she won, but even more so because for the first time in the history of the Booker Prize not only two authors but two women authors won, Evaristo being the first black woman to win. I was intrigued by Evaristo’s title and decided to put the book on my reading list. Somehow the actual reading part got lost between waiting for the release of the paperback edition and doing uni work, in a way I am a bit or even very late to the party. But once I actually started reading, I could barely lay it down and devoured the book in a couple of days.
Being the daughter of a British mother and a Nigerian father, Evaristo decided to tell the story of 12 British women of colour, dedicating a sub-chapter to the story of one woman at a time. Working with a multiplicity of voices, she makes sure that each of the women has the power to tell her own story and make her voice heard. As the novel goes along you notice more and more overlaps between the individual stories, Evaristo cleverly manages to link the stories together and everything culminates in the final chapter.
Just as you would expect the women to have different personalities in real life, each of these characters is completely unique and Evaristo explores the lives of women from different ages and backgrounds, telling for instance the story of a lesbian theatre producer or that of an ambitious young banker, but also dives into the world of a frustrated teacher or a hard-working cleaner. It is clear that Evaristo does not shy away from telling stories that often remain untold, giving them a place in the spotlight. Thus showing how diverse British culture and specifically black British culture truly is. It is fascinating how she managed to represent and unite so many different perspectives, women from different ages, backgrounds and sexualities are given a voice, allowing a large scale readers to find themselves somewhere within the book.
In line with her excellent ways of representing different women she also lets them speak in a voice true to their identity and you will find instances of dialects and non-standard versions of English throughout the chapters. Despite, their obvious differences, you get a strong sense of community among the women, whether they personally know each other or not. Personally this gave me a comforting feeling and for a moment I felt like anything was possible for these fictional characters but also for all the women out there in the real world. Aside from her stunning depiction of women Evaristo raises important issues about gender, feminism, racism and homophobia, by presenting for instance strong gay and non-binary women. Some readers might not be aware of the extent of these issues in Britain but this book clearly is an eye-opener.
The narrative is beautiful, Evaristo opted to almost completely leave out full stops which makes it virtually flows from one sentence to the next just like poetry, leaving you eager to read on. Throughout the book I laughed, cried and was encouraged to think about our world and society, which shows how rich and captivating her style is.
I am inclined to like books with strong female leads, but this one was truly exceptional, giving me not only one, but 12 inspiring female protagonists. Never before, have I found so much diversity in one single book and it truly left me thinking about how we perceive life today. The story is never confusing despite all the different points of view and it definitely is anything but boring. I think this is an important book to read, not just for women but for everyone.