The first black, British Woman to win this prestigious award. This is Bernadine Evaristo’s 8th novel.
She is currently Professor of Creative writing at Brunel University, London.
Several good interviews with her online that I recommend. Christiane Amapour, on CNN and another from Waterstone’s. There is a rant by Hannah Tay too on YouTube about the novel that gives a different viewpoint.
Evaristo calls her writing Fusion Fiction because her writing mixes prose and poetry. The effect of the sparsity of punctuation including capital letters at the beginning of sentences gives a sense of fluidity which could be seen to suit the way the characters and themes link. The novel has 12 protagonists aged 19 to 92, a character being given a chapter to focus on her story. The characters are mainly black but there is diversity of race, class, gender, transgender and education, which makes for a complex mixture of identities.
Any prize is controversial. The Booker Prize has been accused of choosing trendy subjects – diversity in this case – and being biased towards experimental works. If this is true do you think this trend is justifiable?
Here are some excerpts from reviews on Amazon, some positive some highly critical.
Other is an unconventional novel in the sense that it doesn’t have a plot,
doesn’t have a particularly linear timeline, and doesn’t have a single focal
character. What it is, essentially, is a collection of twelve different,
loosely linked character studies that combine to create a sort of picture of
black heritage in Britain.
The twelve narratives are grouped into four sets of three, each set has relatively tight connections with the others in that set, but the four sets are connected sometimes in tangential ways. Each narrative is fully and beautifully told, centring on a black woman but with a lively and diverse cast of supporting characters – sometimes generations of that character’s family, sometimes friends, sometimes employers or offspring.
Each of the twelve characters is sufficiently different to maintain interest and avoid any blurring between them. They range, for example, from a lesbian theatre dramatist, to a city banker, to a Northumbrian farmer, to a narcissistic schoolteacher. Some of the characters are more likeable than others, some of them are happier than others.
This remarkable collection of narratives is dauntingly long to start with, but after the first two or three stories it is very hard to put down. It is written in a compelling, immediate style (almost verse like with line spacing and lack of capital letters), and gives a very convincing insight into lives that the reader might never have previously noticed. This is an important work that gives a better understanding of our country, and an appreciation that the story is still being written.
2) Very compelling, original, and relentlessly gossipy! This novel weaves an intricate web of connections over many years of a group of women. They are linked in a dozen ways, through blood, friendship, chance, love. The construction of the book is quite dazzling. I was totally engrossed from start to finish.
3) I was encouraged to read this as a result of the publicity about the Booker Prize.
The writing style is unusual but once I got into it, the rhythmic, poetic style of writing got me hooked. A cast of characters cleverly woven together.
4) Self indulgent, unreadable and unpunctuated crap This is a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. Save your money
5) A confusing blend of strong opinion and irritating grammatical novelty, mixed with some compelling storytelling. I believe it succeeds best when it gets off its soapbox and simply relies on the power of a well-told story.
6) This half-Booker winner is a hair-raisingly tendentious polemic whose deliberate (rebelliously experimental?) lack of punctuation and continuous use of the present simple tense render the novel next to unreadable. The writing is episodic and it lacks subtlety and sophistication. As though in compensation, there is a lot of sound and fury, anger and disapproval, both implied and overt.
What did you admire about this book?
My opinion: the variety of characters, the structure, the writing style – for me the fusion of fiction and poetry did work. Most of all I enjoyed the humour, often satirical, as the women expressed their opinions. Lively accounts of women’s lives, always leaving us wanting to know more about them.
What didn’t you like about it?
My opinion: I didn’t like the forced preachy bits, where we were being told what to think, especially in the transgender section.
Which character or section did you enjoy reading about the most?
My opinion: I loved the Epilogue. The author was not afraid of giving us a happy ending showing a reunion between a mother and daughter, which was moving without being sentimental. A fitting ending as much of the book was about mother/daughter relationships.
I also loved the chapter about Yazz and her view of her parents, very funny but so real
Which character or chapter did you find the least successful?
My opinion: The one about Dominique and her relationship with the dominating Nzinga the least convincing. I not only found it unsettling (fine if that was the intention) but I could not believe that Dominque would put up with the situation for so long. Maybe it says something about even strong women being easily persuaded into submission and not necessarily by a man.
Please contact me with your answers to these questions and any other comments about the book and I will put them on my website!
I’d like to finish by giving my personal recommendations for further reading of novels by Bernadine Evaristo:
“The Emperor’s Babe”