How reviewing Evaristo’s novel should prompt a critical analysis of racism in healthcare -- part 1
‘White people are only required to represent themselves, not an entire race’ remarks one of the characters in Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning novel Girl, Woman, Other (2019). This widely unacknowledged truism forms the foundation of Evaristo’s work. In following the journey of 12 black women – a journey which spans geographical borders, generations and gender boundaries – Evaristo presents a multifaceted account of black, female experience that is individualising without being collectivising.
Chapter by chapter, Evaristo’s latest novel intertwines the identities of these women as their lives ebb and flow into and around each other’s spheres of existence. Many of these women are connected by the novel’s protagonist Amma, a black, lesbian, theatre producer whose debut performance at the National Theatre is watched by many of the women the novel chronicles. Amma’s nineteen year old daughter Yazz is in the audience, an unwillingly self-designated member of the ‘Swipe-Like-Chat-Invite-Fuck Generation’. Also in attendance is Dominique, Amma’s best friend, who has fled an abusive relationship with an older woman. Some of these women are connected by familial ties: mothers, daughters, granddaughters. Some are familiar to each other only transitorily: old school teachers, mentors, employees and employers.
The language Evaristo employs is poetic. The entire novel is written with a noticeable absence of full stops or capitalisation. The prose is, at points, formatted as verse—'the feeling of being/ un/moored/un/wanted/un/loved/un/done/a/no/one’. This creates the impression of a novel unrestrained by social convention, and bestows it with a freedom to explore the elusive nature of identities that are constantly being reformed.
Evaristo does not attempt to define what it means to be a black woman in Britain. Instead, she poses questions about what it means to be black, female and feminist in a majority white, ethnocentric society. In one particular chapter, Megan, who later chooses to define themselves as non-binary Morgan, is presented defacing her collection of Barbies, ‘with their stick legs and rocket breasts’. This act, referred to as ‘Barbicide’, draws noticeable parallels with a scene in Toni Morrison’s 1970’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Bluest Eye. In the latter, Morrison depicts a young Claudia overcome by loathing for the ‘blue-eyed Baby Doll’ she is gifted for Christmas. She subsequently dismembers the doll to ‘find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me, but apparently only me’. Evaristo herself cites Morrison’s works as having a profound influence on her writing, and it is a sign of society’s stagnation in promoting racial equality that such scenes carry the same symbolic significance over 40 years apart.
Part 2 will be posted tomorrow; or read the long-form piece now at Medium.
Jasmine Virk, Junior Doctor, 2020