This book shared the 2019 Booker prize with Margaret Attwood’s The Testament and I bought it at the time and tried once or twice to read it but couldn’t get into it. I left it for some months and then read it within four days (which is fast for me!). It is a fairly long book and I can see now I have finished all 452 pages, why I struggled. The beginning was the part I liked least and those first characters the ones who appealed least to me.
The book is extraordinary in its breadth and depth, in its combination of prose and poetry and its portrayal of modern Britain through the eyes of twelve women of colour, aged from sixteen to ninety. It is structured in four parts, each containing the stories of three women. Sometimes they are connected and sometimes not. The final section, The After Party, has several of them coming together. Such a tight structure keeps each story on track, confined to 30-50 pages. The structure also keeps the prose/poetry narrative, which has random or sometimes no punctuation, in check. Otherwise, it could become unwieldly and hard to follow.
The characters share much in common but are distinctly different. They offer an insight into the lives of black British women both past and present; their experiences of patriarchy, racism, feminism, sexism, LGBTQIA+ issues, all kinds of abuse, the education system, – some who used it to succeed and those who failed. Evaristo has distilled down to these twelve characters thousands of experiences that belong to everyday people..
I loved the language; the economy of poetry, the private dialect of these women, their self-sufficiency. Every page is alive with examples. The back cover says it all. ‘It is fiction, it is history, it is future, it is past. It is a novel about who we are now. This is Britain as you’ve never read it.’