Bernadine Evaristo has been announced the joint winner of the Booker Prize 2019, sharing the award with Margaret Atwood for "The Testaments".
In "Girl, Woman, Other", Evaristo zooms in on the lives of 12 people – mostly women – the author pays beautiful, hilarious and moving homage to what it means to be black and British. In her novel, we meet a series of protagonists at various stages of life, love and everything in between. They’re all connected in one way or another, and we journey with them as they navigate friendship, gender, politics, sex, race and identity in their respective realities.
"Girl, Woman, Other" celebrates the rich variety of black womanhood across generations. In the extract below, we're given a snapshot into the life of one of the novel's heroines as she wanders through the streets of London, reminiscing about the glory days of the '80s.
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is walking along the promenade of the waterway that bisects her city, a few early morning barges cruise slowly by
to her left is the nautical-themed footbridge with its deck-like walkway and sailing mast pylons
to her right is the bend in the river as it heads east past Waterloo Bridge towards the dome of St Paul’s
she feels the sun begin to rise, the air still breezy before the city clogs up with heat and fumes
a violinist plays something suitably uplifting further along the promenade
Amma’s play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, opens at the National tonight
she thinks back to when she started out in theatre
when she and her running mate, Dominique, developed a reputation for heckling shows that offended their political sensibilities
their powerfully trained actors’ voices projected from the back of the stalls before they made a quick getaway
they believed in protest that was public, disruptive and downright annoying to those at the other end of it
she remembers pouring a pint of beer over the head of a director whose play featured semi- naked black women running around on stage behaving like idiots
before doing a runner into the backstreets of Hammersmith
Amma then spent decades on the fringe, a renegade lobbing hand grenades at the establishment that excluded her
until the mainstream began to absorb what was once radical and she found herself hopeful of joining it
which only happened when the first female artistic director assumed the helm of the National three years ago
after so long hearing a polite no from her predecessors, she received a phone call just after breakfast one Monday morning when her life stretched emptily ahead with only online television dramas to look forward to
love the script, must do it, will you also direct it for us? I know it’s short notice, but are you free for coffee this week at all?
Amma takes a sip of her Americano with its customary kickstarter extra shot in it as she approaches the Brutalist grey arts complex ahead
at least they try to enliven the bunker-like concrete with neon light displays these days and the venue has a reputation for being progressive rather than traditionalist
years ago she expected to be evicted as soon as she dared walk through its doors, a time when people really did wear their smartest clothes to go to the theatre
and looked down their noses at those not in the proper attire
she wants people to bring their curiosity to her plays, doesn’t give a damn what they wear, has her own sod-you style, anyway, which has evolved, it’s true, away from the clichéd denim dungarees, Che Guevara beret, PLO scarf and ever-present badge of two interlocked female symbols (talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve, girl)
these days she wears silver or gold trainers in winter, failsafe Birkies in summer
winter, it’s black slacks, either baggy or tight depending on whether she’s a size 12 or 14 that week (a size smaller on top)
summer, it’s patterned harem pants that end just below the knee
winter, it’s bright asymmetric shirts, jumpers, jackets, coats
year-round her peroxide dreadlocks are trained to stick up like candles on a birthday cake
silver hoop earrings, chunky African bangles and pink lipstick
are her perennial signature style statement
recently described her style as 'a mad old woman look, Mum', pleads with her to shop in Marks & Spencer like normal mothers, refuses to be spotted alongside her when they’re supposed to be walking down the street together
Yazz knows full well that Amma will always be anything but normal, and as she’s in her fifties, she’s not old yet, although try telling that to a nineteen-year-old; in any case, ageing is nothing to be ashamed of
especially when the entire human race is in it together
although sometimes it seems that she alone among her friends wants to celebrate getting older because it’s such a privilege to not die prematurely, she tells them as the night draws in around her kitchen table in her cosy terraced house in Brixton
as they get stuck into the dishes each one has brought: chickpea stew, jerk chicken, Greek salad, lentil curry, roasted vegetables, Moroccan lamb, saffron rice, beetroot and kale salad, jollof quinoa and gluten-free pasta for the really irritating fusspots
as they pour themselves glasses of wine, vodka (fewer calories), or something more liver-friendly if under doctor’s orders
she expects them to approve of her bucking the trend of middle-aged moaning; instead she gets bemused smiles and what about arthritic flare-ups, memory loss and hot sweats?
Amma passes the young busker
she smiles with encouragement at the girl, who responds in kind
she fishes out a few coins, places them in the violin case
she isn’t ready to forgo cigarettes so leans on the riverside wall and lights one, hates herself for it
the adverts told her generation it would make them appear grown-up, glamorous, powerful, clever, desirable and above all, cool
no one told them it would actually make them dead
she looks out at the river as she feels the warm smoke travel down her oesophagus soothing her nerves while trying to combat the adrenaline rush of the caffeine
forty years of first nights and she’s still bricking it
what if she’s slated by the critics? dismissed with a consensus of one-star reviews, what was the great National thinking allowing this rubbishy impostor into the building?
of course she knows she’s not an impostor, she’s written fifteen plays and directed over forty, and as a critic once wrote, Amma Bonsu is a safe pair of hands who’s known to pull off risks
what if the preview audiences who gave standing ovations were just being kind?
oh shut up, Amma, you’re a veteran battle-axe, remember?