Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Everisto Was the co-winner of the 2019 Morning Award alongside The Testaments by Margaret Atwood that I read earlier this year. It follows the lives of 12 characters, most of them black British women, spanning several decades in four overlapping clusters. In the first part, we get to know her mother, a theater director, her daughter Yaz and Dominic who is her mother’s former partner in the theater group. Then there is Carol who works in banking, Emma Bomi and the school friend La Tisha. Shirley is a teacher whose mother Winsum retired in Barbados and has worked with her colleague Penelope for several years. Finally, Megan / Morgan is a non-binary social media influencer, whose relatives Hattie and Grace were based in the north of England in the early 20th century.
So Everisto’s eighth novel is basically a series of pen portraits that create short stories related to each other, and overall, I think there is enough world-building here to call it a novel. Some of the characters were more compelling than others to read about – Carol was definitely one of my favorites – but together they form a diverse chorus that allows Everisto to explore weighty contemporary topics like identity, racism and sexism with the ease of touch. Averisto is often described as an experimental writer, and the prose is read like a verse or play script in many parts. She is especially good at dialogue which accurately captures the way people speak.
Although I followed the Morning Award for a few years, either I did not read or did not really enjoy most of the recent winners in the 2010s, but ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is now one of my favorite modern winners of the award. I also highly recommend the latest BBC documentary ‘Imagine’ which describes Everesto’s career to date.
I have read only one book in the shortlist of this year’s Morning Prize, viz Big Circle by Maggie Shipstad. Her third novel tells the story of Marian Graves, a squadron who went missing in 1950 while trying to orbit the North-South began and ended in New Zealand, while in 2014, a scandal-ridden Hollywood actress, Hadley Baxter, plays her character. Marian in a biography of her life.
The story focuses mainly on Marian’s life in the early 20th century, while some parallels to Hadley’s life are gradually revealed. Marian and her twin brother Jamie are orphaned following a shipwreck in 1914 and travel to live with their uncle Wallace in Montana. In the interwar years, Marian became obsessed with aviation, and the passages describing her flights are truly sweeping. At times, Hadley’s plot line felt like an unnecessary distraction or a forced coincidence, but its significance in the structure of the novel as a whole becomes clear towards the end. The differences between the film’s interpretation of the more mysterious aspects of Marian’s life and what actually happened to her are particularly intriguing.
Shipstad later reveals that the original manuscript was 1,000 pages long and although it was cut to just over half that length and remained slightly wide overall, it is still an epic work of historical fiction that is very close to the scale of his ambition. The winner of this year’s Morning Award will be announced on Wednesday, November 3rd and I will be attending the ‘Great Circle’, hoping to continue the trend of Morning Award winners I enjoyed reading and mentioned in my July forecast post before announcing the long list, as with Douglas Bain by Douglas Stewart this year Past.