A review by Eric Arnett
The longlist for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction has just been announced and Brunel’s creative writing supremo and Booker Prize-winning author, Bernadine Evaristo, has had her novel included.
The book tells the interconnected stories of 12 Black British women over the course of several decades. It raises timeless questions about feminism and race which have had little representation in British fiction. Large parts of the novel are set in London, yet all the characters have relationships with different parts of Britain and roots that extend from Ethiopia to the Caribbean.
Each woman is given her own section, almost a separate short story. First, we meet Amma, the character most resembling Evaristo herself, a radical feminist lesbian playwright in her fifties about to go to the first night of her latest play, ‘The Last Amazon of Dahomey’, at the National. The book returns to the celebratory after-party in its penultimate chapter, an occasion that brings together nearly all the characters. There is Yaz, Amma’s 19-year-old student daughter, and Dominique her lifelong ally. Her school friend Shirley, who has become a teacher, striving to help her more talented pupils. Among them is Carole, who after being raped as a teenager, takes control of her life, attends Cambridge and becomes a banker. Carole’s childhood friend LaTisha however, works in a supermarket and has three children by different fathers.
The text is written in a freestyle using commas, but no capitals to start sentences and no full stops or quotation marks. There are single word lines, mixing narration, dialogue and internal monologue which makes for fast, easy reading. Evaristo imparts a lot of information about her characters, what they eat, what clothes they wear and other identifiers. The novel raises questions of sexuality and race but is handled in a witty style.