A novel that explores womxn from all over Britain and their journey’s across time. Bernardine explores themes of racism, sexism, sexuality, identity, immigration and much more. From the streets of London to the seaside port city of Plymouth, we see how each character deals with their own struggles and how that’s formed the person we meet in the final chapter. These characters are beautifully connected in the smallest of ways that are sometimes revealed in their stories or become obvious at the end of the book. To name a few characters: there’s Amma, the lesbian playwright, non-binary Morgan and even Winsome, who’s arrived from Barbados to an unhappy marriage.
A British classic.
At first I was very nervous. All I had seen was amazing reviews and I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to keep up with so many different characters. However, that’s what made this novel beautifully unique. Bernardine Evaristo recognised just how amazingly diverse Britain is and explored the many different female identities there are within one small country. It really puts into perspective just how everyone identifies differently.
Each character’s journey was different. It was a sharp reminder that we genuinely don’t know what everyone is going through. It’s easy to pass judgement on situations that we see through the snapshot of a five-second meeting with someone or the lens of social media. But yet, the truth is we won’t know unless they’ve actually opened their mouths and told us.
WARNING – A lot of these stories can be potentially triggering with the issues that are discussed.
Side note: I flat out screamed at Shirley and Winsome’s stories and had to put the book down to collect my thoughts. I could not believe what I was reading. Even now, writing this review I’m still in disbelief.
There’s a sense of unification through these characters. An undoubting belief that together is better than alone. It’s the idea that whether it’s their race, gender or family these characters are tied together and can relate to each other in some way. It’s beautiful and cyclical in structure because this novel is about struggle, love and much more.
Through each character, Evaristo explored the history of Britain and how certain groups of people came to be in London. We had a Nigerian immigrant protagonist, a Windrush generation protagonist and much more. But whilst, these characters focused on history that I can sympathise and connect with. Evaristo also chose to suggest how those who are the opposite in every sense, e.g. conservative, racist and British, came to be as they are in today’s society. Not only did she convey this but she also chose to show how they are too just as connected to their counterparts. Almost in a yin/yang affect. One cannot exist without the other, reinforcing this theme of togetherness.
I loved how she explored every aspect of what it means to be a woman living in Britain regardless of race and gender. She dissected societal expectations before putting it back together how she knew it to be. Cleverly, Bernardine Evaristo highlighted just how fluid gender is and reflected on how it is society that has placed these boundaries and restrictions on how a woman should be/act. Additionally, she even explored how different cultures would dictate how a woman may act or be perceived. She didn’t hold back. She ripped apart the stereotypes with both hands and laid out the truth for everyone to see within the pages of this novel.
It was refreshing.
Personally, I felt like Evaristo wanted to start a discourse about issues and situations that are often relevant to today’s society but at times are dismissed. She explored just how angry we can get at someone if they’re coming from a place of ignorance. In particular, I loved how she addressed stereotyping and how it can mentally affect those who know they are better than what society paints them to be.
If I had to say a particular story stuck out the most, it would be Dominque. Through her, Bernardine took the phrase ‘Only a black woman can love a black woman’ and really turned it on it’s head. It was interesting and different. Her story stuck with me the most because we often think only those that we consider in positions of power can oppress minorities. That’s not always the case.
Regardless, this novel made me truly delve into the richness of diversity in the country I call home. It’s easy to overlook it because I’ve had the privilege of growing up in London, where it is incredibly diverse with so many different cultures. Evaristo goes out of her way to provide representation for every single type of wxman out there and she does it effortlessly. However, whilst drawing on these differences, she reminds us that it’s Britain that connects us all. The country we call home has played a part in our lives some way or another.
This novel made me appreciate people’s differences. It served as a reminder that I can’t pass judgement on other people’s lives based on the small parts they choose to reveal to me.
To me, personally, this was a story about strength in numbers. It was a story about being united and finding power in the differences. It was a story based on the beauty in togetherness.
It’s easier to do things together, rather than alone.